A team of researchers found the pair of Mexican catfish in a cave near Del Rio, Texas. The discovery came almost a year after the first sighting report. Even though there had been suspicions that the endangered species may have reached the Texas waters, none of them was confirmed until now.
Cave animals are fascinating because they have renounced all characteristics they do not need in their habitats, such as camouflage or eye sight. In order to compensate the lack of light, they developed extra-sensorial abilities and new features that help them survive in dark, humid areas with little diversity.
“Since the 1960s there have been rumors of sightings of blind, white catfishes in that area, but this is the first confirmation. I’ve seen more of these things than anybody, and these specimens look just like the ones from Mexico,” said Dean Hendrickson, curator of ichthyology at the University of Texas.
The Mexican catfish was first described in 1954 as living exclusively in the waters of Coahuila, Mexico. The underground creature was listed as an endangered species, and it was given the name Prietella phreatophila. Until now, the small animal was not spotted outside of Mexico, even if there had been rumors that it reached US waters.
The peculiar swimmer has transparent skin, which makes its veins visible and gives it a pink coloring. It has no eyes because light cannot easily infiltrate in the dark waters of wells and underground springs. It is around 3 inches long and has no spine.
As no one knows how the creature managed to appear in Texas, scientists are thinking to take under revision an old theory that suggests caves below the Rio Grande are linked to the Edwards-Trinity aquifer.
The two Mexican catfish were sent to the San Antonio Zoo, where they will be kept in safe environments and further studied by scientists. There is not yet known when the small animals will be publicly displayed.
Apart from the Mexican catfish found last month, there are two other known species of catfish in the US. One is Trogloglanis pattersoni, a swimming fish with no teeth, and the other is Satan eurystomus, a top carnivore in caves. Both creatures live in the underground waters of San Antonio, Texas.
The Edwards-Trinity aquifer is one of the richest confined layers of water in the US. The positive pressure beneath the rocky surface makes water to spring through wells in search to regain internal equilibrium.
The Texas aquifer is a source of drinking water for two million people, as well as a major water supply for the industry. The water deposit is exposed to dangers of contamination and over-drought.
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