New Bugs in California
An image of one of the 27 new species of bugs found in a cave in California.
(Photo: Dr. Jean K. Krejca/Zara Environmental)
By Ezra Billinkoff
January 20, 2006We might know a lot about what happens near Earth's surface. It's hard to miss a big whale in the ocean or a bird in the sky. But sometimes, we have to look deeper, which is exactly what scientists did recently in deep caves in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. There they found 27 new species of spiders, scorpion-like crawlers, and a whole range of insects.
After three years of spelunking, or exploring caves, researchers released a report this week detailing the 27 new species. Some are so unique that they are only found in one cave. The scientists explored 30 caves in Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks, which include part of the large Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Caves, like the deep parts of oceans and seas, remain largely unexplored because they are hard to reach. The recent excitement over the discovery of these new species may encourage others to try their hand at exploration.
"You get the feeling you're Lewis and Clark, charting undiscovered territory," said Jean Krejca, a biologist who helped lead the cave-searching. "Caves are one of the last frontiers."
Many of the new species were found in only one cave and appeared to have evolved there over time, rather than spreading out to other places. Scientists believe these creatures have remained in one place because they are unable to leave. "You can end up with lots of endemics [a species found in only one location] in a small area," Krejca said. "That's what appears to have happened in Sequoia and King's Canyon."
What Did They Find?
The team of scientists and cave explorers found plenty in the deep, dark caves of the Sierra Nevada. One new discovery is a cousin of the pill bug. Its skin is so translucent, or clear, that you can see its internal organs, including its bright yellow liver. The creature does not need pigment, or color, in its skin because there are no harmful sunrays that can affect it. The caves are completely hidden from the sun.
Another tiny discovery is a new type of daddy longlegs whose jaw is larger than its body. The big mouth allows the daddy longlegs to eat prey bigger than itself. "We saw it eating dobsonflies, which are quite large," Krejca said.
The scientists also found an almost-glowing orange spider. None of the creatures they discovered has a name yet. That job will be left to taxonomists who classify species and give them official names.
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