Sunday, 19 June 2016

Blind Catfish Found in Texas Caves

An new and eyeless catfish have been discovered deep inside a cave in Texas, an entirely new area for a rare species and a finding scientists say could mean underground caverns link the US to Mexico.  Pretty amazing stuff. It's no everyday that new fish get discovered, especially in America. An additional bonus- it's a catfish!!!

These amazing pink fish were found swimming in a limestone cave at the Amistad National Recreation Area, near Del Rio in southern Texas. They were pretty small, only about 3 inches in length.  The scientific Latin is Prietella phreatophila

“Since the 1960s there have been rumors of sightings of blind, white catfishes in that area, but this is the first confirmation,” ichthyologist Dean Hendrickson said in a statement. “I’ve seen more of these things than anybody, and these specimens look just like the ones from Mexico.”  Before the find, the eyeless fish were only rumored to live north of the Rio Grande: the endangered fish were only known in waters fed by the Edwards aquifer, beneath the Mexican state of Coahuila.

In April of last year, a National Park Service employee and caver named Jack Johnson saw several strange and indolent fish – their blood visible through translucent skin – swimming in the waters of an Amistad cave. Eventually, Johnson and biologist Peter Sprouse, of private surveying firm Zara Environmental, found the fish within the cave system.  Hendrickson has spent years searching for the Mexican blindcat in the US. He identified the fish for the team of researchers. Texas has two other species of blind catfish: the toothless blindcat and the widemouth blindcat, which live deep in the aquifer below San Antonio.

Subterranean natural selection strips life of the features necessary under the open sun – sight, skin, size and more. In lightless waters, creatures need no eyes, no pigment to resist the sun, no scales. The blindcats rely on sensitive hearing, touch and taste to circle in on insects and tiny brine shrimp.

The skeletal widemouths, of the genus “Satan”, are considered the top predators of the caves, even though they measure only 5.4in and have just the useless remnants of eyes – a pale sightless miniature of their closest relatives, the 5ft flathead. They are thought to prey on tiny shrimp and the 4in toothless catfish, a bizarre animal thought to scavenge on fungus and the dead.

“Cave-dwelling animals are fascinating in that they have lost many of the characteristics we are familiar with in surface animals,” Sprouse said, “such as eyes, pigmentation for camouflage and speed.”  Instead, such animals often evolve what Sprouse called “extra-sensory abilities to succeed in total darkness”.

The Mexican blindcat was first documented in 1954, after scientists discovered the miniature fish swimming in the dark wells and springs of northern Mexico. It is thought to have sensitive skin that can detect organic material that might serve as food.

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