Swimming, flesh-eating cricket discovered in South American cave
Predatory cricket was one of 3 new species discovered by a film crew exploring a vast underground cave in Venezuela.
Tue, Aug 07 2012 at 3:44 AM
CAVE CRICKET: This newly discovered insect is the apex predator in the caves where it was found. (Photo: BBC video)
As if there weren't already enough reasons to be creeped out in the dark, scientists exploring a remote cave network in Venezuela have discovered a new species of cricket that swims instead of jumps and has an appetite for flesh, according to the BBC.
Scientists, who were exploring the caves with a BBC/Discovery Channel/Terra Mater TV film crew for an upcoming documentary, were able to film the bizarre new species as it was being discovered. At one point the cricket nearly ripped off a chunk of its handler's thumb. Assuming there aren't any larger, scarier carnivores still lurking elsewhere in the shadows of the cave, it is believed that this cricket is the apex predator in its environment.
The one trait that makes this cricket particularly unique, though, is its ability to swim.
"[It's] the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen," said biologist and presenter, Dr. George McGavin. "It swims underwater and uses its front legs as a proper breaststroke and its hind legs kicking out. It was just amazing."
It also appears to have evolved specialized palps for ultra-sensitive tasting in its dark environment. Most species of troglobites, or cave-dwelling animals, have evolved to live without eyes, instead relying on their senses of taste, hearing and touch (or occasionally some other specialized sense).
The cricket was one of three new species discovered on the expedition. Scientists also found a cave catfish that had evolved large sensitive organs on the front of its head to help it navigate in the dark. The foreboding cave environment had also caused the fish's skin to become pale, and leave it with only remnants of eyes. Thirdly, they discovered a new species of harvestmen — a type of arachnid that includes the daddy-longlegs — that had lost its eyes entirely.
"If we'd had the time there would have been other [discoveries] there," said McGavin. "You can't really as a biologist, put into words how it feels to see something, to film something that's never been named."
Caves have become hot spots for new species discoveries in recent years, as scientists have learned to appreciate how these isolated environments can cause rapid speciation. Organisms that originally colonize cave environments typically become isolated from their ancestral populations on the surface. The harsh environment, combined with in-breeding, can select for obscure adaptations in short order.
The cricket, which is so new that scientists have yet to name it, was found two miles into the cave network. That's a long way from the surface, and far away from any other species of cricket. That's probably good news, though. This is one creature you wouldn't want lurking in your swimming pool.
Related animal story on MNN: 10 creatures that thrive in caves
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