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Bizarre Insectlike Creatures Discovered in Spanish Cave

This is the new species of springtail, Pygmarrhopalites maestrazgoensis.
This is the new species of springtail, Pygmarrhopalites maestrazgoensis. (Image credit: Rafael Jordana, Enrique Barquero)

Three bizarre-looking springtails, tiny insect-like creatures, have been discovered in a Spanish cave. The three species are very different from one another and have been named Pygmarrhopalites maestrazgoensis, P. cantavetulae and Oncopodura fadriquei.

Springtails are amongst the most ancient and widespread animals. Like insects they have six legs, but are small, more primitive and lack wings. They usually have a furca, or a tail used to spring away from danger, hence the name "springtails." Many cannot be seen with the naked eye; the largest species is about 0.24 inches long (6 millimeters).

These new species have these springy tails and hairy, tiny bodies, resembling Lilliputian monsters. One of them, O. fadriquei, lacks eyes.

They were found by researchers from the University of Navarra in the isolated Maestrazgo caves in the Teruel region of Spain, at elevations up to 6,560 feet (2,000 meters). Outside the isolated caves, winter temperatures drop to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius). Inside, however, temperatures stay between 41 and 54 F (5 to 11 C).

The scientists plan to study how these creatures adapt to the cold, wet and lightless conditions in the cave, according to a release from the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. "Like other cave-adapted animals, the [springtails] require greater chemical sensitivity as they cannot use their sight in the absence of light," said University of Navarra researcher Enrique Baquero in the statement.

"Studying fauna in the caves allows us to expand on our knowledge of biodiversity," Baquero said. "In the case of the three new species that we have found in Teruel, they are organisms that have survived totally isolated for thousands of years. Having 'relatives' on the surface means they act like relics from the past that have survived the climate change taken place on the outside of the caves."

The new species are described in a study published in October in the journal Zootaxa.

Oncopodura fadriquei, one of the newfound springtails species, which lacks eyes. (Image credit: Rafael Jordana, Enrique Barquero)

Researchers descending into the Spanish cave. (Image credit: Floren Fadrique)

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Live Science Staff
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