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Eyeless, Fanged Crustacean Found in ‘Tunnel to Atlantis’

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Lisa Wolfe
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« on: November 07, 2010, 05:31:18 pm »

Eyeless, Fanged Crustacean Found in ‘Tunnel to Atlantis’

    * By Hadley Leggett Email Author
    * August 28, 2009  |
    * 1:38 pm  |


A species of crustacean with no eyes and venom-injecting fangs has been discovered in an underwater volcanic cave in the Canary Islands off the coast of North Africa.

Researchers discovered the new animal during a diving expedition through the world’s longest submarine lava tube, called the Tunel de la Atlántida, or “tunnel to Atlantis.” The divers were searching for specimens of a closely related crustacean species that they’d discovered 25 years ago in the same cave. But after capturing several of the sea creatures, the researchers noticed something peculiar.

“Some animals were much more active in swimming around than others in the small sample bottles,” said marine biologist Tom Iliffe of Texas A&M University at Galveston, who was part of the team that discovered the new species. “On closer examination, and subsequently with DNA testing, we confirmed that they were actually two different species.”

Their findings appear this month in a special edition of Marine Biodiversity. The new crustacean has been named Speleonectes atlantida, which means “cave swimmer of Atlantis.” It’s a very apt name, Iliffe said, because the creature is a very active swimmer, gliding through the water an undulating fashion.

Because the crustacean lives in near-total blackness of the cave, its body is almost transparent. Through its clear skin, 20 to 24 nearly identical body segments can be seen.

“These animals are crustaceans, but they look more like a centipede,” he said, “with a highly segmented body and a well developed head with specialized appendages.” These specialized mouthparts include a set of hollow-tipped fangs filled with venom. Although the poison is strong enough to kill small shrimp and other marine animals, Iliffe said it’s not toxic enough to harm people.

The new crustacean is a member of the class Remipedia, which researchers think is one of the oldest groups of crustaceans on Earth. Because Remipedia have been found in the Atlantic, the Caribbean and also in Australia, scientists speculate that the animals may have originated when the continents of Europe, Africa and the Americas were close together.

“So it’s thought remipedes could be at least 200 million years old,” Iliffe said in a press release, “a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.” On the same expedition, Iliffe’s team also discovered two new species of tiny worms, each smaller than a grain of rice.
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