Researchers based at the University of São Paulo have named a newly discovered species of amoeba after the wizard Gandalf due to its shells striking resemblance to the wizard's gray hat.
The aquatic amoeba found in Brazil has been named Arcella gandalfi.
The researchers said it's not clear why the amoeba makes a shell that looks like a hat, but it could be used to protect itself against predators.
The tiny amoeba ranges in color from light yellow to brown and has a diameter of just of 0.0032 inches (81 micrometers) and a height of 0.0028 inches (71 micrometers).
Daniel J. G. Lahr, a professor at the University of São Paulo's Institute of Biosciences and the lead researcher of the project, said in a statement: 'New amoeba species are very rarely discovered because they’re so tiny and not widely studied.
'In addition, there are very few taxonomists who specialize in this group in Brazil.'
Professor Lahr and his team discovered A.gandalfi after they received reports of its existence in many different parts of Brazil.
But it was nearly impossible to analyze its anatomy to see if it was a new species, so the researches used electron microscopes to analyze the amoeba's characteristics.
Professor Lahr said that the fact that this newly discovered species was found in the Southern Hemisphere indicates very strongly that its restricted to this region because environments in the Northern Hemisphere have been studied in a lot more depth.
The research, published in the journal Acta Protozoologica, found that the amoeba grows in wetlands, damp soils and bogs
It's a single-celled organism - which means each live amoeba is only composed of one cell.
The amoeba's shell 'hat' is actually a shell known as a carapace.
The researchers aren't sure why it has this carapace, but they said the typical idea is that its used to protect the amoeba's against potential predators.
However, Professor Lahr doesn't think this is the case.
The group of amoeba's that A.gandalfi belongs to, thecamoebians, have evolved to develop different shaped Carapace's.
Buy they're often eaten by predators who swallow their carapace whole.
Their shell is not protective like armor as is the case for species such as centipedes or crabs.
One of the researchers on the team said he think the carapace may protect A.gandalfi from dryness.
A similar dryness-protection carapace has been observed in plankton and aquatic plants that live in shallow lakes, ponds, streams and reservoirs that can be left dry when water levels fluctuate.
'We think they're able to maintain a humid microenvironment inside the shell when it's dry outside by storing even a tiny amount of water,' said Professor Lahr.
The researchers said that the carapace could also protect against harmful UV radiation.
'Their habitats are aquatic, and they’re often exposed to sunlight, so protection against UV rays must be a very important factor,' said Professor Lahr.
'A multicellular organism has a number of protective barriers against UV radiation, including a layer of keratin, as well as skin pigments.
'In the case of single-cell organisms like amoebae, their DNA is basically exposed.'