Rice-sized worm, eyeless crustacean, found in underwater cave

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Washington, August 28 (ANI): An international team of scientists has discovered two tiny worms much smaller than a rice grain and a strange crustacean that has no eyes and poisonous fangs, among several new species of marine life found in an underwater cave in Lanzarote, Canary Islands.

Tom Iliffe, professor of marine biology, Texas A and M University, carried out the research, along with researchers from Pennsylvania State University, the University of La Laguna in Spain and two German universities - the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover and the University of Hamburg.

The team found the new species while exploring the Tunnel de la Atlantida, the world's longest submarine lava tube.

Iliffe said that the new creatures were found deep inside the underwater cave and in total darkness.

"The small worms we discovered were found in a large, conical mound of white sand, which had filtered down from a hole in the cave ceiling," Iliffe said of the new discovery.

"We collected several samples of the sand and when we examined it later, we found these new species," he added.

The team named one of the new worms for Iliffe, dubbing it Sphaerosyllis iliffei.

"Its tiny body has no eyes or color and is the first cave-adapted species from the worm family Syllidae," Iliffe said.

"Like other cave-adapted crustaceans and worms inhabiting this lava tube, they likely colonized underwater caves and cracks in older rocks on the island and invaded the water of the lava tube sometime after its formation 20,000 years ago," he said.

The other newly found worm is named after local artist Cesar Manrique, who designed the touristic portion of the cave which divers must transit in order to reach the underwater portions of the lava tube.

The new species of crustacean discovered by the team is a member of the class Remipedia, believed to be among the most primitive of all types of crustaceans.

It has been named Speleonectes (which means "cave swimmer") atlantida after the cave system it inhabits.

The remipede is about one inch in length, has no eyes, its head has specialized mouthparts and venom injecting fangs, has a body with 20-24 segments, and because it was found in the total blackness of the cave, has a body that is almost transparent.

"It likely had its origins during early stages of the formation of the Atlantic Ocean millions of years ago when the continents of Europe/Africa and North/South America were in close proximity," said Iliffe. (ANI)

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