PHOTO: New Eyeless Crustacean Found in Underwater Cave

eyeless crustacean photo
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August 26, 2009—With needle-sharp fangs and powerful limbs sprouting from its head, you probably won't find this crab cousin floating in a creamy bisque anytime soon.

The newfound eyeless crustacean was recently discovered in the world's longest underwater lava tube, on the island of Lanzarote in the Spanish-ruled Canary Islands. (See map.)

Dubbed Speleonectes atlantida, after the Tunnel de la Atlantida where it was found, the 0.78-inch-long (20-millimeter-long) invertebrate belongs to an unusual group of crustaceans called Remipedia, which scientists first identified in 1979.

Twenty-two known species of the predatory Remipedia lurk in underwater caves around the world, from the Bahamas to Western Australia.

(Related photos: "Spider-Killer Wasp, Eyeless Crustacean Found.")

The newest addition to the family sports several pairs of limbs, one of which is equipped with sharp, venomous jaws that function like hypodermic needles, said study leader Stefan Koenemann of the Institute for Animal Ecology and Cell Biology at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover in Germany.

The tiny hunter will grip its prey—such as a much larger cave shrimp—and then inject poison into its victim.

Aside from members of the Remipedia group, no other venomous crustaceans are known, giving the species' poisonous bite "a flamboyant status in crustacean biology," Koenemann said.

These odd critters may also be survivors of an ancient group of crustaceans that were widespread in the Mesozoic oceans more than 200 million years ago, he added.

—Christine Dell'Amore

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