Newly Discovered Species Found in Cozumel’s Cenotes
(Cozumel, Quintana Roo, 15 September) The unique conditions of Cozumel´s cenotes (underground freshwater rivers or streams) have allowed scientists to discover new species of crustaceans and echinoderms (like sea urchins) endemic to the island. Divers from Cozumel are performing research with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to analyze these recently discovered species in more detail.
Spelunker-diver Germán Yáñez Mendoza told reporters that new species were found in the Aerolito cenote. They are star fish and cave-dwelling urchins, quite different from their saltwater relatives. In 2007 the same scientist discovered a cave-dwelling shrimp (or troglobite) near the Tres Potrillos Ranch.
Diving in cenotes is an expert specialty because the lack of light, tight spaces, frequent lack of overhead air space and fine sediment on the floor, together with the much reduced buoyancy of the human body in fresh water, require special swimming techniques and safety precautions. Until recently, scientific research was limited, and it is still difficult.
Prior to these recent discoveries, none had ever been registered. The cave-dwelling shrimp has now been named “Barburia Yanezi” in honor of its discoverer, and “Copidaster Cavernícola” is the name provisionally given to the primitively-developed freshwater star fish.
The cave shrimp is pale in color and finds food by sensing temperature changes through its antennae. Its slow metabolism lets it survive in water with very low oxygen levels, and a high sulfur content, similar to conditions created by NASA for space experiments.
The starfish has thinner “fingers” than its saltwater cousin, simpler in appearance, and evidencing far slower evolutionary change than most marine species. The new species discovered in the Aerolito cenote is white with only partially defined extremities, giving it the appearance of a shadow.
The cave-dwelling urchins are less spiny than usual, and have protuberances that resemble more closely teeth.
Lastly, eight distinct kinds of a cave-dwelling crustacean have been identified, called “ofiuros” (spider-like starfish).