Saturday, January 8, 2011

A new species of cave-dweller discovered

It's a first for the Algarve, Portugal and the world. The newly named Litocampa mendesi has probably been around for millions of years but this hitherto unknown species of insect was discovered only recently because of the specialist skills of a young Portuguese biologist. She found it living in total darkness in Algarve caves.

Ana Sofia Reboleira, of the University of Aveiro, is a speleologist as well as a biologist, with a special interest in the ecology and conservation of subterranean water systems. She found the blind and wingless Litocampa mendesi in the Algarve while working on her doctoral thesis.

Sofia Reboleira is credited with earlier discovering three new species of beetle and a pseudo scorpion. This is reportedly the only exclusively cave-dwelling insect ever recorded in Portugal.
Residents and visitors to the Algarve cannot help but marvel at the many caves and caverns along the south and west coasts, but inland caves are much more tucked away and less known.

Elsewhere in the world, insect species that only inhabit caves usually have no close relatives above ground. They are also usually restricted to fairly confined areas. The depths of caves are home to many other types of life including molluscs, crustacea, mites, and arachnids such as harvestmen and spiders.

Nutrition is available to them in the form organic matter that has seeped into the subsoil or been borne along in streams. Another major source of nutritive material are the droppings and dead bodies of bats that sleep in caves by day and feed outside by night.

Sofia Reboleira has published her findings on Litocampa mendesi in scientific journals in collaboration with a Spanish biologist, Alberto Sendra.

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