Sunday, November 23, 2008
Kentucky's Eyeless Cave Creatures
The Kentucky cave shrimp, known to biologists as Palaemonias ganteri, is probably our state's most famous weird critter. It's most often referred to in casual company as "blind cave shrimp", but I've always thought of that as something of a misnomer. "Blind" seems to imply that it has eyes that cannot see, but Palaemonias ganteri actually has no eyes at all.
It's classified as a troglobite, which is a term for life forms that have become so adapted to cave life that they couldn't exist anywhere else. A true troglobite is, by definition, eyeless.
Palaemonias ganteri is found only in three places on Earth, all three of which are Kentucky caves. It's been registered as an endangered species since 1983, mainly due to contaminated groundwater. In 1980 a truck hauling deadly cyanide salts overturned on I-65 near Mammoth Cave and very nearly destroyed the entire fragile ecosystem.
In addition to eyeless shrimp, Kentucky caves are very well known for their eyeless crayfish, such as Orconectes pellucidus and Orconectes inermis inermis, as well as other special Kentucky-only crayfish species as Orconectes jeffersoni which can only be found in one place on Earth: Beargrass Creek in Louisville.