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Hidden Ecosystem Discovered Beneath Cement Quarry

One of the crustaceans found in a newly discovered cave in Israel. Hebrew University Photo by Sasson Tiram

At a cement quarry in Israel, researchers have discovered eight previously unknown species of small creatures in a newfound underground cave.

The limestone cave has long been sealed off from it surroundings—even outside water cannot seep through an overlying layer of chalk—and it contains an entire ecosystem unlike anything known.

The newly named Ayalon Cave stretches for about 1.5 miles and is "unique in the world," said Amos Frumkin of the Hebrew University Department of Geography.

A small opening was uncovered at the quarry, leading to the cave, which extends more than 100 yards below the surface. It is situated between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Scientists found seawater and freshwater crustaceans  in underground lakes that are a brackish mix, as well as a terrestrial scorpion that, owing to the eternal darkness in the cave, is blind. The new species were all found alive except the scorpion, but live scorpions will be found in further expeditions, said university researcher Hanan Dimentman.

All the animals are thought to have been isolated for millions of years. Other scientists are now working to classify them.

"The eight species found thus far are only the beginning" of what promises to be "a fantastic biodiversity," Dimentman said.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.