J.K. Rowling’s magical world filled with wondrous creatures might be closer than we think—Karnataka, to be specific. A group of Indian researchers recently announced the discovery of the Eriovixia gryffindori, a tiny spider that looks uncannily like the Sorting Hat from novelist J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter fantasy series. For those less magically inclined, the creature looks like a dried leaf, making it incredibly difficult to spot in forests of the Western Ghats in Karnataka’s Shimoga district.
The spider’s conical form is what helped researchers Javed Ahmed and Rajashree Khalap, and wildlife photographer Sumukha J. N. to pick its name. Eriovixia is the genus of spider, the species is gryffindori, inspired by Rowling’s character Godric Gryffindor. This is how the scientists explained the naming in their research paper: “This uniquely shaped spider derives its name from the fabulous, sentient magical artifact, the sorting hat, owned by the (fictitious) medieval wizard Godric Gryffindor, one of the four founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and stemming from the powerful imagination of Ms. J. K. Rowling, wordsmith extraordinaire, as presented in her beloved series of books, featuring everyone’s favorite boy-wizard, Harry Potter.”
The name even got Rowling’s approval on Twitter:
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 11, 2016
Ahmed, a hardcore Harry Potter fan, told National Geographic Traveller India that he came across the species while combing the region in 2015. “The specific area we covered is unique: it’s a sacred grove that has been protected by locals for generations, and has a crop of deciduous vegetation with evergreen plants and trees in the centre. It was a biodiversity hotspot, like many parts of the Western Ghats.” The spider is tiny—only 7mm in length—and Ahmed had to dissect it and study its genitalia before ascertaining that it was indeed a new species of arachnid.
The pop-culture inspired name was more than just a tip of the (sorting) hat to Rowling. Ahmed and his colleagues wanted to get people interested in invertebrates, those less glamorous creatures that are often overlooked as they go about quietly ensuring the forest’s cogs and wheels keep turning. “Everyone talks about tigers, lions, and elephants,” Ahmed said, “And even butterflies, because they’re beautiful. But we need to pay attention to the smaller guys like spiders, they’re just as mysterious and just as important to the planet.”
Kamakshi Ayyar is a former member of NGT India's digital team. She is partial to places by the sea and desserts in all forms. When she isn't raving about food, she's usually rambling on about the latest cosmic mysteries. She tweets as @kamakshi138.