Researchers from LSU’s Museum of Natural Science and the University of Kentucky have discovered the first new U.S. cavefish species in 40 years. The new eyeless cavefish is described from Indiana and named in part after the Indiana Hoosiers. The discovery was published in the open access journal ZooKeys, available at http://www.pensoft.net/journals/zookeys/article/7245/abstract/the-hoosier-cavefish-a-new-and-endangered.
“I’m excited by the attention this little blind fish is receiving. It’s nice to know people still care about natural history and the discovery of new things in science,” said Prosanta Chakrabarty, assistant professor/curator of fishes at LSU. “Not only is this species new, but it tells us about the evolution of blindness and adapting to living in complete darkness.”
The new species, Amblyopsis hoosieri, is the closest relative of a species (A. spelaea) from the longest cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. These two species are separated by the Ohio River, which also separates the states of Indiana and Kentucky.
The new species is notable for lacking eyes and for having an anus right behind its head. The position of the anus likely facilitates the females brooding their young in their gills.
The species from south of the Ohio River, A. spelaea, has a knockout mutation in the genetic sequence of rhodopsin, a gene important in vision. The new species, on the other hand, lacks this mutation and maintains a functional rhodopsin gene, despite lacking eyes and vision. The new species shows distinct morphological differences compared to its southern congener. It has a plumper, Bibendum-like body (rolls of flesh like a baby or Bibendum, otherwise known as the “Michelin Man”) and shorter fins. It also has smaller mechanosensory neuromasts on papillae, which allow them to sense movement in the dark waters of the caves they are found in.
The researchers decided to name the new species, A. hoosieri, the Hoosier Cavefish, not only after the Indiana Hoosiers team, but mainly to honor the proximity of the new species to Indiana University and several famed ichthyologists who worked there.
“The senior author of the manuscript is a fervent fan of Indiana Hoosier basketball, but the first author is an alumni of the University of Michigan and is not. Also notable is that the middle author of the publication is currently an undergraduate at Louisiana State University,” explained the authors – Chakrabarty; Jacques Prejean, also of LSU; and Matthew Niemiller, who is currently at University of Kentucky but is an Indiana native and an affiliated researcher at the LSU Museum of Natural Science.
According to Chakrabarty, Indiana University used to be the Mecca of North American Ichthyology but, unfortunately, it no longer has an ichthyology department. David Starr Jordan (1851–1931), “The Father of North American Ichthyology,” spent much of his distinguished career at Indiana University, later going on to be the first chancellor of Stanford University. It is said that all living North American ichthyologists can trace their lineage of graduate training back to Jordan.
Carl Eigenmann (1863–1927) was also one of the greatest ichthyologists and studied many blind vertebrates while at Indiana University. It was very likely that he was actually the first person to have collected what the authors now recognize as Amblyopsis hoosieri. Notably, Eigenmann’s wife Rosa (1858–1947) is considered by many to be the first female ichthyologist. She and her husband described more than 100 species together. The authors of this new species used some of the specimens collected by these famed IU researchers from nearly 100 years ago.
Notably, Chakrabarty and other LSU Museum of Natural Science curators are authors in an article in the journal Science that explains the importance of specimens in scientific research. That article published in May is available at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6186/814.
“Certainly the discovery of this new cavefish in the U.S. is a perfect example proving the importance of specimens and collections in scientific research,” Chakrabarty said.
For more information on the LSU Museum of Natural Science, visit http://appl003.lsu.edu/natsci/lmns.nsf/index.
Contact Ernie Ballard
LSU Media Relations