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Missouri Cave Life

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 4, 2010

insect prey), siltation or flooding caused by water projects, invading exotic species and urbanization. In the United States, five species of troglobites that we know of have become extinct, four of them in the last 50 years, and 20 species are recognized as endangered or threatened.

Twelve other troglobites are candidates for the U.S. endangered species list, including Missouri's Tumbling Creek cavesnail, Antrobia culveri, known from but one cave in the world. All six species of endangered bats in the U.S. depend on caves at least seasonally.

If we conserve our groundwater properly, much of our Missouri cave life will be protected. We are making progress in conservation by setting aside and protecting bat caves of strategic importance. Of the state's 5,700 caves, only about 155, or 3 percent, are of strategic importance to gray and Indiana bats. The Conservation Department is doing its part by protecting 28 such sites on its lands and cooperatively monitoring the bat populations in other caves held by private, state and federal owners.

A New Species of Cave Crayfish

Conservation Department biologists Bill Elliott, Ken Lister, Melissa Shiver and Rhonda Rimer collected a species new to science on August 16, 1999. Their work was part of a study, funded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

They found an eyeless crayfish in a muddy steam passage in one of the caves at Caney Mountain Conservation Area in Ozark County. Lister collected one adult male and one adult female for identification by an expert taxonomist and Elliott extensively photographed the specimens. Tissue from the female was deep frozen for DNA work by a geneticist, and both specimens were preserved for study.

Elliott was thrilled when he studied his photos of the male's gonopods (mating appendages) and realized that this was a species of the genus Orconectes, instead of one of the two known cave crayfishes in Missouri.

Five species of blind Orconectes inhabit caves from Indiana to Alabama, but this is the first blind Orconectes from west of the Mississippi River.

Finding a new species of cave crayfish is a rare event (the last one in Missouri was in 1952). Some cave species are older than the caves they live in, which may be millions of years old. Some species of cave crayfish have an extremely slow growth rate, low reproductive rate and long life span, so it is important to carefully study and conserve cave crayfish populations.

To protect the new species, access will be restricted to scientific studies. Fortunately, the cave is inside a protected "Natural Area" and is far from any development or known pollution sources.

Photos of many cave species may be seen on Elliott's Biospeleology website.

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