Small, rare crayfish thought extinct is rediscovered in cave in Huntsville city limits

Dr. Matthew L. Niemiller’s team found individuals of the Shelta Cave Crayfish in 2019 and 2020 excursions into Shelta Cave – its only home.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (June 1, 2022) – A small, rare crayfish thought to be extinct for 30 years has been rediscovered in a cave in the City of Huntsville in northern Alabama by a team led by an assistant professor at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

Dr. Matthew L. Niemiller’s team found individuals of the Shelta Cave Crayfish, known scientifically as Orconectes sheltae, in 2019 and 2020 excursions into Shelta Cave – its only home.

The Shelta Cave Crayfish is known to exist only in Shelta Cave. Courtesy Dr. Matthew L. Niemiller

Dr. Niemiller, an assistant professor of biological sciences at UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System, is co-author of a paper on the findings in the journal Subterranean Biology. Besides Dr. Niemiller, authors are UAH’s Katherine E. Dooley and K. Denise Kendall Niemiller, and Nathaniel Sturm of the University of Alabama.

The crayfish’s home is a 2,500-foot cave system that’s owned and managed by the National Speleological Society (NSS) and is unobtrusively located beneath the organization’s national headquarters in northwest Huntsville and is surrounded by subdivisions and bustling roadways.

Map of Shelta Cave showing the distribution of aquatic habitat during high water levels and the location of Shelta Cave Crayfish observations (black crayfish symbol) during the study. Map modified with permission of the Alabama Cave Survey.

“The crayfish is only a couple of inches long with diminutive pincers that are called chelae,” Dr. Niemiller says. “Interestingly, the crayfish has been known to cave biologists since the early 1960s but was not formally described until 1997 by the late Dr. John Cooper and his wife Martha.”

But the aquatic ecosystem, including the Shelta Cave Crayfish, crashed sometime in the early 1970s. The crash may be related to a gate that was built to keep people out of the cave and yet still allow a grey bat maternity population to still move freely in and out.

Even before the decline in the aquatic cave community, the Shelta Cave Crayfish was never common compared to the other two species, Southern Cave Crayfish (Orconectes australis) and Alabama Cave Crayfish (Cambarus jonesi).

“To the best of our knowledge, only 115 individuals had been confirmed from 1963 through 1975. Since then, only three have been confirmed – one in 1988 and the two individuals we report in 2019 and 2020,” Dr. Niemiller says.

“After a couple of decades of no confirmed sightings and the documented dramatic decline of other aquatic cave life at Shelta Cave, it was feared by some, including myself, that the crayfish might now be extinct.”

While it’s encouraging that the Shelta Cave Crayfish still persists, he says scientists still haven’t rediscovered other aquatic species that once lived in the cave system, such as the Alabama Cave Shrimp and Tennessee Cave Salamander. 

“The groundwater level in Shelta Cave is the result of water that works its way naturally through the rock layers above the cave – called epikarst – from the surface,” says Dr. Niemiller. “However, urbanization in the area above the cave system may have altered rates at which water infiltrates into the cave and also increased rates of pollutants, such as pesticides and heavy metals entering the cave system.”

The crayfish was rediscovered during an aquatic survey aimed toward documenting all life that encountered in the cave system.

“I really wasn’t expecting to find the Shelta Cave Crayfish. My students, colleagues and I had visited the cave on several occasions already leading up to the May 2019 trip,” Dr. Niemiller says. “We would be fortunate to see just a couple of Southern Cavefish and Southern Cave Crayfish during a survey.”

Dr. Matthew L. Niemiller snorkels in Shelta Cave, where a species of crayfish believed to be extinct was rediscovered. Photo by Amata Hinkle

While snorkeling in about 15 feet of water in North Lake located in the Jones Hall section of the cave, Dr. Niemiller spotted a smaller-sized cave crayfish below him.

“As I dove and got closer, I noticed that the chelae, or pincers, were quite thin and elongated compared to other crayfish we had seen in the cave,” he says. “I was fortunate to swoop up the crayfish with my net and returned to the bank.”

“The second Shelta Cave Crayfish that we encountered was in August 2020 in the West Lake area,” he says.

The team had searched much of the area and didn’t see much aquatic life. As they started to make their way out the lake passage to return to the surface, Nate Sturm, a master’s student in biology at the University of Alabama who had accompanied the lab for the trip, noticed a small white crayfish in an area that the team had previously walked through.

To aid identification, the team analyzed short fragments of mitochondrial DNA in the tissue samples collected.

“We compared the newly generated DNA sequences with sequences already available for other crayfish species in the region,” Dr Niemiller says. “A challenge we faced was that no DNA sequences existed prior to our study for the Shelta Cave Crayfish, so it was a bit of a process of elimination, so to speak.”

Outside of the dissertation work done by Dr. Cooper, little about the life history and ecology of the species is known.

 “Groundwater is critically important not just for the organisms that live in groundwater ecosystems, but for human society for drinking water, agriculture, etc.,” Dr. Niemiller says.

“The organisms that live in groundwater provide important benefits, such as water purification and biodegradation,” he says. “They also can act like ‘canaries in the coal mine,’ indicators of overall groundwater and ecosystem health.” 

Research article:

Dooley KE, Niemiller KDK, Sturm N, Niemiller ML (2022) Rediscovery and phylogenetic analysis of the Shelta Cave Crayfish (Orconectes sheltae Cooper & Cooper, 1997), a decapod (Decapoda, Cambaridae) endemic to Shelta Cave in northern Alabama, USA. Subterranean Biology 43: 11-31. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.43.79993

About The University of Alabama in Huntsville

Launched from America’s quest to conquer space, The University of Alabama in Huntsville is one of America’s premier doctoral-granting, research-intensive universities. Located in the second largest research park in the United States, UAH has robust capabilities in astrophysics, cybersecurity, data analytics, logistics and supply chain management, optical systems and engineering, reliability and failure analysis, rotorcraft and unmanned systems, severe weather, space propulsion and more. UAH prepares students for demanding positions in engineering, the sciences, business, nursing, education, the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Read the full press release by The University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Follow Subterranean Biology on Facebook and Twitter.

The first cave-bound mollusc species from the Americas

Against the odds, a study by Brazilian researchers describes a new to science species of evidently cave-bound – or troglobitic – clam from northern Brazil.

Exclusively subterranean bivalves – the group of molluscs comprising clams, oysters, mussels, scallops – are considered a rarity. Prior to the present study, there had only been three such species confirmed in the world: all belonging to a small-sized mussel genus known from southeastern Europe. Furthermore, bivalves are not your typical ‘underworld’ dweller, since they are almost immobile and do not tolerate environments low in oxygen. 

Against the odds, a recent study by Dr. Luiz Ricardo L. Simone (Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo) and Dr Rodrigo Lopes Ferreira (Federal University of Lavras), published in the open-access scholarly journal Subterranean Biology, describes a new to science species of evidently cave-bound – or troglobitic – clam from northern Brazil. 

Small individuals of the newly described clam species Eupera troglobia sp. n. exposed to the air, next to a harvestman (Eusarcus sp.). Photo by Rodrigo Lopes Ferreira.

Named Eupera troglobia, the mollusk demonstrates features characteristic for organisms not meant to see the daylight, including lack of pigmentation, reduced size, delicate shell and fewer, yet larger eggs.

Curiously, it was back in 2006 when a report presenting a faunal survey of a cave in northern Brazil featured photographs of what was to be described as Eupera troglobia. However, the evidence was quickly dismissed: the clam must have been carried into the cave by water. 

A submerged specimen of the newly described cave-bound clam species Eupera troglobia sp. n.

In 2010, Dr Rodrigo Lopes Ferreira accessed the report and noticed the depigmentation of the clams. Wondering whether it was indeed possible that he was looking at a troglobite, he searched amongst the collected specimens from that study, but could not find any of the discoloured bivalve.

Ten years later, his team visited the cave to specifically search for depigmented shells. Although the cave was partially flooded, the researchers were able to spot the specimens they needed attached to the walls of the cave.

In conclusion, the scientists highlight that their discovery is the latest reminder about how important the conservation of the fragile subterranean habitats is, given the treasure troves in their holdings. 

Meanwhile, recently amended laws in Brazil put caves at considerably higher risk.

***

Research paper: 

Simone LRL, Ferreira RL (2022) Eupera troglobia sp. nov.: the first troglobitic bivalve from the Americas (Mollusca, Bivalvia, Sphaeriidae). Subterranean Biology 42: 165-184. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.42.78074

***

Follow the Subterranean Biology journal on Twitter and Facebook.

A year of biodiversity: Top 10 new species of 2021 from Pensoft journals, Part 2

While 2021 may have been a stressful and, frankly, strange year, in the world of biodiversity there has been plenty to celebrate! Out of the many new species we published in our journals this year, we’ve curated a selection of the 10 most spectacular discoveries. The world hides amazing creatures just waiting to be found – and we’re making this happen, one new species at a time.

Read Part 1 of the Top 10 new species of 2021 here.

5. The Instagram model

Many students and young researchers are encouraged to explore biodiversity by starting from their own backyard. Yes, but how often do they find undescribed snake species in there?

This is exactly what happened to Virendar K. Bhardwaj, a master student in Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. Confined to his home in Chamba, India because of the COVID-19 lockdown, he started photographing any wildlife he came across and uploading it on his Instagram account. One of his images showed a beautiful kukri snake.

The picture immediately caught the attention of Zeeshan A. Mirza (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore) and Harshil Patel (Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat), who worked together with Virendar to describe it as a new species under the name Oligodon churahensis.

“It is quite interesting to see how an image on Instagram led to the discovery of such a pretty snake that, until very recently, remained hidden to the world,” Zeeshan A. Mirza told us earlier this month.

“What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species. Lately, people have been eager to travel to remote biodiversity hotspots to find new or rare species, but if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.”

Published in: Evolutionary Systematics

4. The tiny snail with an athletic name

Do freshwater snails make good tennis players? Well, one of them certainly has the name for it.

Enter Travunijana djokovici, a new species of aquatic snail named after famous Serbian ten­nis player Novak Djokovic.

Found in a karstic spring near Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, T. Djokovici is part of the family of mud snails, which inhabit fresh or brackish water, including caves and subterranean habitats.

The tiny snail was discovered by Slovak biospeleologist Jozef Grego and Montenegrin zoologist Vladimir Pešić of the University of Montenegro, who claim they named it after the renowned tennis player “to acknowledge his inspiring enthusiasm and energy.”.

To discover some of the world’s rarest animals that inhabit the unique underground habitats of the Dinaric karst, to reach inaccessible cave and spring habitats and for the restless work during processing of the collected material, you need Novak’s energy and enthusiasm,” they add.

Amazingly, Novak Djokovic found out that he’s now a namesake to a tiny snail, and he even had a comment.

“I am honoured that a new species of snail was named after me because I am a big fan of nature and ecosystems and I appreciate all kinds of animals and plants,” he says in an Eurosport article. “I don’t know how symbolic this is, because throughout my career I always tried to be fast and then a snail was named after me,” he joked. “Maybe it’s a message for me, telling me to slow down a bit!”

Published in: Subterranean Biology

3. The Coronavirus caddisfly

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected all of us, and the scientific world is no exception. Fieldwork got postponed, museums remained closed, arranging meet-ups and travel became almost impossible.

Scientists used this as a drive and inspiration as they continued their hard work on new discoveries. Only this year, we published the descriptions of the beetle Trigonopterus corona, the wasp Allorhogas quarentenus, and, yes, the caddisfly Potamophylax coronavirus.

P. coronavirus was collected near a stream in the Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park in Kosovo by a team of scientists led by Professor Halil Ibrahimi of the University of Prishtina. After molecular and morphological analyses, it was described as a caddisfly species new to science. Its name will be an eternal memory of an extremely difficult period.

In a broader sense, the researchers also wish to bring attention to “another silent pandemic occurring on freshwater organisms in Kosovo’s rivers,” caused by the pollution and degradation of freshwater habitats, as well as the activity increasing in recent years of mismanaged hydropower plants. Particularly, the river basin of the Lumbardhi i Deçanit River, where the new species was discovered, has turned into a ‘battlefield’ for scientists and civil society on one side and the management of the hydropower plant operating on this river on the other.

P. coronavirus is part of the small insect order of Trichoptera, which is very sensitive to water pollution and habitat deterioration. The authors of the species argue that it is a small-scale endemic taxon, very sensitive to the ongoing activities in Lumbardhi i Deçanit river, and failure to understand this may drive it, along with many other species, towards extinction.

Published in: Biodiversity Data Journal

2. The cutest peacock spider ever

If you think spiders can’t be cute, you’ve probably never seen a peacock spider. They have big forward-facing eyes, and their males perform fun courtship dances.

Citizen scientist Sheryl Holliday was the first to spot this vibrant spider while walking in Mount Gambier, Australia, and she posted her find on Facebook. It was later described as a new species by arachnologist Joseph Schubert of Museums Victoria.

Coloured bright orange, it was called Maratus Nemo, after the popular Disney character.

‘It has a really vibrant orange face with white stripes on it, which kind of looks like a clown fish, so I thought Nemo would be a really suitable name for it,’ Joseph Schubert says.

Maratus Nemo is probably the first influencer arachnid – his curious story, bright colours and fun name practically made him an internet star overnight.

Published in: Evolutionary Systematics

1. The tiny ant that challenges gender stereotypes

Found in Ecuador’s evergreen tropical forests, this miniature trap jaw ant bears the curious Latin name Strumigenys ayersthey. Unlike most species named in honour of people, whose names end with -ae (after females) and –i (after males), S. ayersthey might be the only species in the world to have a scientific name with the suffix –they.

“In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinized portmanteau honoring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments, Strumigenys ayersthey,” authors Philipp Hoenle of the Technical University of
Darmstadt
and Douglas Booher of Yale University state in their paper.

Strumigenys ayersthey sp. nov. is thus inclusively named in honor of Jeremy Ayers for the multitude of humans among the spectrum of gender who have been unrepresented under traditional naming practices.”

Curiously, it was no other than lead singer and lyricist of the American alternative rock band R.E.M. Michael Stipe that joined Booher in writing the etymology section for the research article, where they explain the origin of the species name and honor their mutual friend, activist and artist Jeremy Ayers.

This ant can be distinguished by its predominantly smooth and shining cuticle surface and long trap-jaw mandibles, which make it unique among nearly a thousand species of its genus.

“Such a beautiful and rare animal was just the species to celebrate both biological and human diversity,” Douglas Booher said.

Published in: ZooKeys

Novak Djokovic now has a tiny new snail species named after him

Do freshwater snails make good tennis players? One of them certainly has the name for it.

Enter Travunijana djokovici, a new species of aquatic snail named after famous Serbian ten­nis player Novak Djokovic.

Photo of Tavunijana djokovici, a new snail species from Montenegro named after Serbian ten­nis player Novak Djokovic. Photo by J. Grego

Slovak biospeleologist Jozef Grego and Montenegrin zoologist Vladimir Pešić of the University of Montenegro discovered the new snail in a karstic spring near Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, during a field trip in April 2019. Their scientific article, published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Subterranean Biology, says they named it after Djokovic “to acknowledge his inspiring enthusiasm and energy.”

“To discover some of the world’s rarest animals that inhabit the unique underground habitats of the Dinaric karst, to reach inaccessible cave and spring habitats and for the restless work during processing of the collected material, you need Novak’s energy and enthusiasm,” the researchers explain.

T. djokovici has a milky-white shell in the shape of an elongated cone and is adapted to live in the underground habitats of the Dinaric karst. It is part of Hydrobiidae, a very diverse family of small to tiny snails – also known as mud snails – inhabiting fresh or brackish water, including caves and subterranean habitats.

The type locality where Tavunijana djokovici was found.

This is the first member of the genus Travunijana so far to be discovered in the Skadar Lake basin, and the only one found outside of the Trebišnjica river basin in Herzegovina, which points to the enigmatic distributional range of these snails across the Dinaric underground habitats. Where they came from, and how, remains a mystery.

Because of its small area of occupancy, T. djokovici  is assessed as Vulnerable, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Subterranean ecosystems, the authors of the new species emphasise, are extremely vulnerable to human-driven environmental changes, and, being obscure, they’re often overlooked during conservation efforts.

Original source:

Grego J, Pešić V (2021) First record of stygobiotic gastropod genus Travunijana Grego & Glöer, 2019 (Mollusca, Hydrobiidae) from Montenegro. Subterranean Biology 38: 65–76. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.38.64762

Tiny cave snail with muffin-top waistline rolls out of the dark in Laos

A new species of tiny cave snail that glistens in the light and has a muffin-top-like bulge, was discovered by Marina Ferrand of the French Club Etude et Exploration des Gouffres et Carrières (EEGC), during the Phouhin Namno caving expedition in Tham Houey Yè cave in Laos in March 2019. The new species, named Laoennea renouardi was described in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Subterranean Biology.

Tham Houey Yè cave (Vientiane Province, Laos), inhabited by the newly discovered “muffin-topped” snail species Laoennea renouardi.
Photo by Jean-Francois Fabriol.

A new species of tiny cave snail that glistens in the light and has a muffin-top-like bulge, was discovered by Marina Ferrand of the French Club Etude et Exploration des Gouffres et Carrières (EEGC), during the Phouhin Namno caving expedition in Tham Houey Yè cave in Laos in March 2019. The new species, Laoennea renouardi, is 1.80 mm tall and is named after the French caver, Louis Renouard, who explored and mapped the only two caves in Laos known to harbor this group of tiny snails. Only two species of Laoennea snail are known so far, L. carychioides and now, L. renouardi

Caver and scientist, Dr. Adrienne Jochum, affiliated with the Natural History Museum Bern and University of Bern (Switzerland), as well as the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum (Frankfurt, Germany) described the new species and its cave habitat together with co-authors: Estée Bochud, Natural History Museum Bern; Quentin Wackenheim, Laboratoire de Géographie Physique (Meudon, France) and Laboratoire Trajectoires (Nanterre, France); Marina Ferrand, EEGC; and Dr. Adrien Favre, Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Subterranean Biology.

The new transparent “muffin-topped” snail, Laoennea renouardi.
Photo by Estée Bochud.

“The discovery and description of biodiversity before it disappears is a major priority for biologists worldwide. The caves in Laos are still largely underexplored and the snails known from them remain few in number,”

points out Dr. Jochum. 

The fact that two species of tiny cave snails of the same group were found in two caves located in two independent karstic networks 3.4 km apart, caused the authors to question evolutionary processes in these underground hotspots of biodiversity. The authors hypothesise that the two caves might have been connected during the Quaternary, around 100–200 thousand years ago. In time, the river Yè might have formed a barrier, thus disconnecting the cave systems and separating the populations. As a result, the snails evolved into two different species.

A new species of tiny cave snail that glistens in the light and has a muffin-top-like bulge, was discovered by Marina Ferrand of the French Club Etude et Exploration des Gouffres et Carrie?res (EEGC), during the Phouhin Namno caving expedition in Tham Houey Yè cave in Laos in March 2019. The new species, Laoennea renouardi, is 1.80 mm tall and is named after the French caver, Louis Renouard, who explored and mapped the only two caves in Laos known to harbor this group of tiny snails. Only two species of Laoennea snail are known so far, L. carychioides and now, L. renouardi.

Caver and scientist, Dr. Adrienne Jochum, affiliated with the Natural History Museum BernUniversity of Bern (Switzerland), as well as the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum (Frankfurt, Germany) described the new species and its cave habitat together with co-authors: Estée Bochud, Natural History Museum Bern; Quentin Wackenheim, Laboratoire de Géographie Physique (Meudon, France) and Laboratoire Trajectoires (Nanterre, France); Marina Ferrand, EEGC; and Dr. Adrien Favre, Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Subterranean Biology.

Map of the two caves on opposite sides of the River Yè, Vientiane Province, Laos.
Image by Louis Renouard.

The fact that two species of tiny cave snails of the same group were found in two caves located in two independent karstic networks 3.4 km apart, caused the authors to question evolutionary processes in these underground hotspots of biodiversity. The authors hypothesise that the two caves might have been connected during the Quaternary, around 100-200 thousand years ago. In time, the river Yè might have formed a barrier, thus disconnecting the cave systems and separating the populations. As a result, the snails evolved into two different species.

***

Original Source:

Jochum A, Bochud E, Favre A, Ferrand M, Wackenheim Q (2020) A new species of Laoennea microsnail (Stylommatophora, Diapheridae) from a cave in Laos. Subterranean Biology 36: 1-9.
https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.36.58977

Guest Blog Post: New Area of Importance for Bat Conservation in Honduras

The recognition of the “Ceguaca, la Mujer de los Juncos” locality comes as a result of research work – published last year in Subterranean Biology – which produced the first checklist of bats for Santa Bárbara


Guest blog post by Eduardo Javier Ordoñez-Trejo and Manfredo Alejandro Turcios-Casco


Bat populations are threatened due to fragmentation and loss of their habitats. Meanwhile, dry forests are some of the least studied and most threatened ecosystems in Honduras, and similarly, so have been the caves.

We had to walk at least two hours to reach either of the caves in El Peñon or Quita Sueño, so we would take our full equipment: for camping, cooking and studying bats.
Photo by Hefer Ávila

Caves are important reservoirs of species, as they offer perks no other habitat can provide at once: a refuge from predators, inconstant weather, and a critical venue for social interactions, reproduction, hibernation, roosting and nutrients. In order to protect bat populations, the Latin American and Caribbean Web for Bat Conservation (RELCOM) supports the establishment of Areas of Importance for the Conservation of Bats, abbreviated as AICOMS (Spanish for Areas with Importance for the Conservation of Bats) .

It was at least a two-hour walk between the caves of Monte Grueso and the caves of El Peñon. The final stint, though, included a swim across Rio Ulúa, one of most extensive rivers in Honduras.
Photo by Hefer Ávila

Together with biologists of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) and local community members, we provided the first ever checklist of bat species in the Dry Forest of Ceguaca, Santa Barbara (Honduras), and described the importance of two caves in the area for bat conservation based on species richness. We published this study last June in Subterranean Biology.

The study is openly accessible in Subterranean Biology

We found that caves in Ceguaca are inhabited by at least 23 bat species of four families, which represents approximately a fifth of all species known from Honduras. Their inhabitants include several threatened species like the hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata), one of the three existing vampire bats, and rare species with few official records in the area, such as Schmidts’s big-eared bat (Micronycteris schmidtorum). These caves may also represent a critical site for roosting and nursing. During our study, we managed to record pregnant and lactating females of several species, as well as reproductive males.

The certificate issued by RELCOM recognising the caves in Ceguaca as an Area of Importance for the Conservation of Bats, dated 6th March 2020

“It feels wonderful to see that our work has had great results and that with our efforts, we established an area where bats will be protected and studied. This certification also includes the name of Roberto Castellano, an elder member of the community of Ceguaca, who helped us during the fieldwork as our guide. He was a great conservationist of this area and protector of the caves. Unfortunately, he passed away during the study, however, due to his enormous contribution, we dedicated our article to him and included him as part of this AICOM success.”

José Alejandro Soler Orellana, co-author of the study.

Using what we learned in Ceguaca’s caves, we approached the Program for Bat Conservation of Honduras (PCMH) and showed them the evidence the locality was indeed a precious place with a spectacular bat diversity. Consequently, thanks to our collaboration with the PCMH, the site was effectively declared as an Area of Importance for the Conservation of Bats by RELCOM on 6th March 2020. 

This is an enormous step for bat conservation in the country. Bat conservation efforts should focus on studying and protecting these and other important habitats. We also need to make sure that local people appreciate the important role the bats play in the ecosystem.

A close up of a spider

Description automatically generated
We captured this adult Pallas’s long-tongued bat (Glossophaga soricina) female in a cave in Monte Grueso. She must have been returning to the cave after spending the day pollinating local plants. During these surveys, we found trees with opened flowers of Mexican calabash (Crescentia alata).
Photo by Hefer Ávila

***

Research article:

Turcios-Casco MA, Mazier DIO, Orellana JAS, Ávila-Palma HD, Trejo EJO (2019) Two caves in western Honduras are important for bat conservation: first checklist of bats in Santa Bárbara. Subterranean Biology 30: 41–55. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.30.35420

Cave fights for food: voracious spiders vs assassin bugs

Killing and eating of potential competitors has rarely been documented in the zoological literature, even though this type of interaction can affect population dynamics. In a recent publication in the open-access journal Subterranean Biology, Brazilian scientists presented their notes regarding the predation of an assassin bug by a spider in Neotropical caves. Underground, where food resources are scarce, such events might be possible as a result of ecological pressures imposed by the hostile environment, hypothesise the researchers.

Killing and eating of potential competitors, also known as intraguild predation, is a rare event that occurs only in specific situations such as severe scarcity of food resources, resulting in the competition between predators.

A recent paper in the open-access journal Subterranean Biology examines the case of a wandering spider species (Enoploctenus cyclotorax) seen to prey upon assassin bugs (Zelurus diasi) in a limestone cave in Brazil.

Even though such type of ecological interaction is uncommon, it is potentially important since it may decrease the competition between apex predators and thus, affect their population dynamics. Zelurus and Enoploctenus are voracious predators with a wide distribution in caves and epigean environment. Both of them have similar diets. In normal conditions, spiders reject assassin bugs as potential prey, so intraguild predation cases occur only in very specific situations.

From the perspective of the participants, intraguild predation is a dangerous strategy because the prey is also a predator, armed and capable to kill. However, in caves, this could be a very useful behaviour since food resources are scarce and have low density.

“This may be an important factor, maintaining the species in that challenging environment”, concludes lead author of the study Dr. Leopoldo Ferreira de Oliveira Bernardi.

The scientists suggest that probably prey scarcity has left little choice for spiders, and that’s why they ended up using unconventional type of prey in their diet.


Intraguild predation between female Enoploctenus cyclotorax and adult Zelurus diasi observed during the study.
Credit: Leopoldo Ferreira de Oliveira Bernardi
License: CC-BY 4.0

***

Original source:

Bernardi LFO, Sperandei VF, Audino LD, Sena CH, Alves JA (2020) Notes on the predation of an assassin bug by a spider in a Neotropical cave. Subterranean Biology 33: 17-22. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.33.48292



Ice Age survivors or stranded travellers? A new subterranean species discovered in Canada

The discovery of a new to science species of rare and primitive arthropod from the depths of a cave that was covered by a thick ice sheet until recently is certain to raise questions. In their study, published in the open-access journal Subterranean Biology, entomologist Alberto Sendra and local caver Craig Wagnell describe a new species of cave-dwelling, insect-like campodeid dipluran from the island of Vancouver (Canada) and discuss its origin.

According to the study, the dipluran’s presence could either mean that terrestrial arthropods have indeed been able to survive within the deep subterranean habitats during the Last Glacial Maximum period some 26,500 years ago or it is the result of related species having dispersed to the area during the deglaciation, making their way from as far as Asia.

Contrary to most people’s expectations, the new creature was discovered only an easy hike away from the nearest town of Port Alberni (Vancouver Island, British Columbia). There, cavers Craig Wagnell, Tawney Lem and Felix Ossigi-Bonanno from the Central Island Caving Club, together with Alberto Sendra, Alcala University (Spain), reported a remarkable, previously unknown species of dipluran from a couple of caves recently unearthed in the small limestone karstic area.

The exit of the Kiku Pot cave (Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada).

Named Haplocampa wagnelli, the new species pays tribute to co-author Craig Wagnell, “who has dedicated many years sampling and exploring in Vancouver Island caves”.

Unlike most cave-adapted campodeid diplurans, whose bodies and appendages are characteristically elongated and slender – a “trademark” feature for strictly underground arthropods – the new species has only slightly elongated antennae and legs and a thicker body. This is the reason why the researchers conclude that the species is not exclusively subterranean and is likely to also be present in soil habitats. On the other hand, its North American sister species seem to be even less adapted to life underground.

Interestingly, the scientists note close relationships between the genus (Haplocampa) of the new species and three others known from the two sides of the north Pacific Ocean: Pacificampa (Japanese Islands and the Korean Peninsula), Metriocampa (Siberia) and Eumesocampa (North America). According to the team, this is evidence for dispersal events where populations would cross over the old Bering Land Bridge, which used to connect America and Asia.

Furthermore, the new species is also one of the most northerly cave-adapted dipluran species, found at a latitude of 49º north. Some 26,500 years ago, its modern habitat would have been located underneath the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, part of the Late Wisconsinan North American ice sheet complex.

Felix Ossigi-Bonanno and Craig Wagnell at the entrance of the Kiku Pot cave after their successful discovery (Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada). 

###

Original source:

Sendra A, Wagnell C (2019) The cave-dwelling dipluran (Diplura, Campodeidae) on the edge of the Last Glacial Maximum in Vancouver Island caves, North America (Canada). Subterranean Biology 29: 59-77. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.29.31467

World’s largest campodeid dipluran named after the mythological giant Daidarabotchi

The giant newly described species Pacificampa daidarabotchi, discovered in the Mejiro-do cave, Kyushu, Japan. Photo by Rodrigo Lopes Ferreira.

The insect-like animal is also the first subterranean representative of its family in Japan

Amongst the fauna thriving in the subterranean spaces below the surface of the earth’s crust, the insect-like diplurans and, precisely, those in the campodeid family are one of the best-known groups, currently comprising almost 150 species. However, not a single subterranean member of the family had been known from Japan until very recently.

As part of a project at the National Council of Technological and Scientific Development, the research team of Dr. Rodrigo Lopes Ferreira, Universidade Federal de Lavras, Brasil, and Dr. Kazunori Yoshizawa, Hokkaido University, Japan, conducted an expedition to a total of 11 carbonate caves in the southern Japanese islands of Kyushu and Shikoku. Out of these, they managed to collect dipluran specimens from three touristic sites and sent them to Dr. Alberto Sendra from the Research group in Soil Biology and Subterranean Ecosystems at Alcala University, Spain, for identification.

The Mejiro-do cave, Kyushu Island, Japan: the type locality of the newly discovered record-breaking species Pacificampa daidarabotchi. Photo by Rodrigo Lopes Ferreira.

To the amazement of the scientists, it turned out that they had collected specimens of two previously unrecognised species of well-adapted subterranean campodeid diplurans.

Moreover, one of the new species (Pacificampa daidarabotchi), identified exclusively from the Mejiro-do cave located near an active quarry in Kyushu, proved to be the largest known dipluran in the family Campodeidae. Measuring about 10 mm in length, the creature looks gigantic next to any other campodeid, which, most often, are only half as big.

Inspired by the peculiar size of the former, the researchers decided to name it after the giant yökai creature Daidarabotchi, known from Japanese mythology. According to one of the legends, Daidarabotchi once lifted up the mountains of Fuji and Tsukuba in order to weigh them. By accident, he split the peak of Tsukuba in the process.

Another remarkable finding from the same study is that the genus, where both new species were assigned – Pacificampa – serves as yet another example of the former physical connection between Asia and America some millennia ago. In their paper, the scientists note that the genus demonstrates close affinities with a genus known from North America.

“We hope that this discovery could stop the destruction of the land nearby and preserve for the future the subterranean habitat of these remarkable gigantic species,” say the researchers in conclusion.

###

Last year, lead author Dr. Alberto Sendra and his colleagues Prof. Boris Sket, University of Ljubljana, and Prof. Pavel Stoev, National Museum of Natural History, Bulgaria, described another cave-dwelling campodeid dipluran to the world’s amazement.

Discovered in Eastern Turkmenistan, the species, whose name (Turkmenocampa mirabilis) refers to its wondrous peculiarity, was the first of in the order Diplura found in Central Asia. Further, it was the first strictly subterranean terrestrial creature recorded in the country.

###

Original source:

Sendra A, Yoshizawa K, Ferreira RL (2018) New oversize troglobitic species of Campodeidae in Japan (Diplura). Subterranean Biology 27: 53-73. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.27.28575

Out of the darkness: A new spider found deep within an Indiana cave

Lead author Marc Milne in the Stygian River Cave and a male specimen of the newly described Islandiana lewisi 

Spiders are ubiquitous within our forests, fields, and backyards. Although you may be used to seeing the beautiful yellow and black spiders of the genus Argiope in your garden, large ground-scurrying wolf spiders in your yard, or spindly cellar spiders in your basement, this new sheet-web-building spider is probably one you haven’t seen before. The reason is that it’s known from a single cave in the world, Stygeon River Cave, in southern Indiana.

The University of Indianapolis assistant professor, Dr. Marc Milne, described the rare species in the open access journal Subterranean Biology with the help of a University of Indianapolis alumnus, Elizabeth Wells, who illustrated the spider for the manuscript.

Sheet weavers, also known as dwarf spiders or money spiders, are minute creatures growing no larger than a few centimetres in length, which makes them particularly elusive. Their peculiar webs are flat and sheet-like, hence their common English name.

Female of the new species Islandiana lewisi

The new spider, Islandiana lewisi, is an homage. Milne was shown the spider by a fellow scientist, Dr. Julian Lewis, who noticed the critter on one of his many cave expeditions. In appreciation for his help, Milne and Wells named the spider after Lewis.

This is the fifteenth species in its genus (Islandiana) and the fifth known to live exclusively in caves. It has been over 30 years since the last species has been added to this group.

At about 2 mm in size, Islandiana lewisi is thought to feed on even smaller arthropods, such as springtails living in the debris on the cave floor. It is unknown when it reproduces or if it exists anywhere else. The spider is likely harmless to humans.

The collectors of the spider, Milne and Lewis, described the hostile conditions within the cave, which the new species calls home: “because the cave floods from time to time, the insides were wet, muddy, slippery, and dangerous to walk on without the proper equipment.”

Milne and Lewis found the spider in small, horizontal webs between large, mud-caked boulders in the largest room in the cave. It was collected in October 2016 with the permission of the landowner.

Milne hypothesized that he had collected something special, stating, “I didn’t know what the spider was at first, I just thought it was odd that so many were living within this dark cave with no other spider species around.”

After returning to the lab and inspecting the spider under a microscope, Milne initially misidentified the species. However, when he re-examined it months later, he realized that the species was indeed new to science.

###

Original source:

Milne MA, Wells E (2018) A new species of spider (Araneae, Linyphiidae, Islandiana) from a southern Indiana cave. Subterranean Biology 26: 19-26. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.26.25605