May 18, 2009 · Uncategorized

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Since 2000, I’ve been fortunate to have been able to work with US Fish and Wildlife agents, state wildlife officials, as well as research biologists and visit a number of caves in North America with interesting subterranean wildlife. Of all of my field work, many of the questions I have emailed to me revolve around subterranean wildlife. So I thought I’d start the blog with a few short comments and a number of related images to North American subterranean biodiversity.

The Alabama Cave Fish (Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni) is a single site endemic (only known from one locality).  It is widely considered one of the most endangered fish in North America.
The Alabama Cave Fish (Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni) is a single site endemic (only known from one locality). It is widely considered one of the most endangered fish in North America.  I thank B. Kuhajda for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.
A close-up of the head of Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni reveals its lateral line system.
A close-up of the head of the Alabama Cave Fish (Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni) reveals its lateral line system. I thank B. Kuhajda for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.
The Ozark Cave Fish (Amblyopsis rosae) is a federally listed threatened species. It is endemic to the Ozark Plateaus Ecoregion. This individual was photographed in Oklahoma.
The Ozark Cave Fish (Amblyopsis rosae) is a federally listed threatened species. It is endemic to the Ozark Plateaus Ecoregion. This individual was photographed in Oklahoma.
The Southern Cave Fish (Typhlichthys subterraneus) has the largest range of any subterranean fish in North America. This individual was photographed in Tennessee.
The Southern Cave Fish (Typhlichthys subterraneus) has the largest range of any subterranean fish in North America. This individual was photographed in Tennessee.  I thank my good friend, Matt Niemiller, for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.
In the Ozarks, the Bristly Cave Crayfish (Cambarus setosus) has been found in more localities than any other obligate groundwater species (stygobite) in the region.
In the Ozarks, the Bristly Cave Crayfish (Cambarus setosus) has been found in more localities than any other obligate groundwater crayfish species (stygobite) in the region.  I thank Dr. A. Brown for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.
Cambarus subterraneus

Endemic to Oklahoma, the Delaware County Cave Crayfish (Cambarus subterraneus) is known from just several localities.

Cambarus tartarus, January-Stansberry Cave No2, Delaware Co, OK HR

Endemic to Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Cave Crayfish (Cambarus tartarus) is also known from only three subterranean localities.

The Orange Lake Cave Crayfish (Procambarus lucifugus lucifugus) is endemic to a relatively small area of Florida.

The Orange Lake Cave Crayfish (Procambarus lucifugus lucifugus) is endemic to a relatively small area of Florida. I thank P. Moler for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.

FLcray46-2006

The Miami Cave Crayfish (Procambarus milleri) is found in the subterranean waters below the Miami area. While it is only known from subterranean waters, it is believed to be a recent invader (relatively speaking). The species still has functional visual structures and a higher degree of pigmentation. I thank P. Radice of the Angels Fish Hatchery, FL, USA for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.

FL CRAY9 2006

Of all of the cave crayfish, the Spider Cave Crayfish (Troglocambarus maclanei) from Florida is believed to have the most modified body form for a subterranean existence. Aside from greatly reduced pigmentation and visual structures, its chelae (pinchers) are thin, weak and delicate, its legs are attenuate (more slender - spider-like), and it attains a diminutive adult size relative to other crayfish; adults are only a couple of inches in size. They live on the ceilings of flooded subterranean passageways. I thank P. Moler for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.

Only known from the Arbuckles of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Cave Amphipod (Allocrangonyx pellucidus) is a relatively large groundwater amphipod that has greatly reduced visual structures and pigmentation.

Only known from the Arbuckles of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Cave Amphipod (Allocrangonyx pellucidus) is a relatively large groundwater amphipod that has greatly reduced visual structures and pigmentation.

Some species of groundwater isopods (Caecodotea) in the Ozarks can approach an inch in total length.

Some species of groundwater isopods (Caecodotea) in the Ozarks can approach an inch in total length.

Caecidotea macropopoda, Christian School Cave, Adair Co, OK No1

This aggregation of groundwater isopods (Caecidotea macropropoda) was an amazing thing to witness in the Ozarks of Oklahoma.

The Ozark Blind Cave Salamander (Eurycea spelaea) is the only subterranean salamander that undergoes predictable and regular metamorphosis from an aquatic larval stage to a terrestrial adult (Gyrinophilus subterraneus, the Wester Virginia Spring Salamander, may be another exception but more data is needed to answer that question). All other obligate subterranean salamanders are paedomorphic with infrequent metamorphosis.

The Ozark Blind Cave Salamander (Eurycea spelaea) is the only subterranean salamander that undergoes predictable and regular metamorphosis from an aquatic larval stage to a terrestrial adult (Gyrinophilus subterraneus, the Wester Virginia Spring Salamander, may be another exception but more data is needed to answer that question). All other obligate subterranean salamanders are paedomorphic with infrequent metamorphosis.

I studied Ozark Blind Cave Salamanders (Eurycea spelaea) for my Masters work at the University of Oklahoma. My research site was in the Ozarks of Oklahoma. Here is an image of an aquatic larvae, found deep within a cave system, that had little pigmentation.

I studied Ozark Blind Cave Salamanders (Eurycea spelaea) for my Masters work at the University of Oklahoma. My research site was in the Ozarks of Oklahoma. Here is an image of an aquatic larvae, found deep within a cave system, that had little pigmentation.

This is a recently metamorphosed adult Ozark Blind Cave Salamander (Eurycea spelaea). Notice the smaller, degenerating eyes, the eye lids that are beginning to grow over them, and the reduced pigment.

This is a recently metamorphosed adult Ozark Blind Cave Salamander (Eurycea spelaea). Notice the smaller, degenerating eyes, the eye lids that are beginning to grow over them, and the reduced pigment.

In older Ozark Blind Cave Salamanders (Eurycea spelaea) notice that the eyes are reduced to small dark lumps. In some animals, the eye lids grow over the vestigial eyes.

In older Ozark Blind Cave Salamanders (Eurycea spelaea) notice that the eyes are reduced to small dark lumps. In some animals, the eye lids grow over the vestigial eyes.

The West Virginia Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus subterraneus) is known only from a single cave. I was fortunate enough to participate in a survey of the known population for the Nature Conservancy.

The West Virginia Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus subterraneus) is known only from a single cave. I was fortunate enough to participate in a survey of the known population for the Nature Conservancy.

Metamorphosed adult West Virginia Spring Salamanders (Gyrinophilus subterraneus) are rare, but we did encounter both life stages during our survey of their one known population.

Metamorphosed adult West Virginia Spring Salamanders (Gyrinophilus subterraneus) are rare, but we did encounter both life stages during our survey of their one known population.

Eurycea rathbuni full body shot

The Texas Blind Salamander (Eurycea rathbuni) may be the most recognizable obligate subterranean salamanders to the general public. It is a federally listed endangered species. I thank J. Fries for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.

TX27 2006

As with most groundwater salamanders, the Texas Blind Salamander (Eurycea rathbuni) is threatened by over extraction of groundwater and contamination of subterranean waters by fertilizers, pesticides, and other human produced contaminants. I thank J. Fries for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.

TX17 2006

This is a blind, groundwater dwelling salamander from Texas (Eurycea). I thank A Gluesenkamp for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.

Here is a "face-on" look at the Eurycea species.

Here is a "face-on" look at another blind salamander from Texas (Eurycea). I thank A. Gluesenkamp for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.

The Austin Blind Salamander (Eurycea waterlooensis) is another of the many subterranean salamanders of Texas. As with E. rathbuni, there is a captive breeding facility that does quite well breeding the salamanders under artificial conditions.

The Austin Blind Salamander (Eurycea waterlooensis) is another of the many subterranean salamanders of Texas. As with the Texas Blind Salamander (E. rathbuni), there is a captive breeding facility that does quite well breeding the salamanders under artificial conditions. I thank D. Chamberlain for the opportunity to photograph this specimen.

I’ve always loved the Cave Salamander (Eurycea lucifuga). This particular individual was encountered in Missouri. It is a good example of a pigment mutation. As far as I can tell, it is partially amelanistic.

I’ve always loved the Cave Salamander (Eurycea lucifuga). This particular individual was encountered in Missouri. It is a good example of a pigment mutation. As far as I can tell, it is partially amelanistic.

Diplurans diverged from the lineage that gave rise to modern insects before the evolution of flight; diplurans are flightless. This is a representatives of the Litocampid diplurans. Notice the paired, long and delicate cerci attached to the last body segment.

Diplurans diverged from the lineage that gave rise to modern insects before the evolution of flight; diplurans are flightless. This is a representatives of the Litocampid diplurans. Notice the paired, long and delicate cerci attached to the last body segment.

Japygid Dipluran, Jail Cave, Delaware Co, OK, No12

Japygid diplurans look (superficially) like earwigs.

This trichoniscid isopod (Miktoniscus oklahomensis) is a terrestrial cave dweller from the Arbuckles of Oklahoma.

This trichoniscid isopod (Miktoniscus oklahomensis) is a terrestrial cave dweller from the Arbuckles of Oklahoma.

White Opilionid #1, Big Mouth Cave, Grundy Co, TN

Opilionids are arachnids, related to spiders and scorpions. They are not uncommon in caves and there are a few subterranean species. This one was photographed in the Appalachians of Tennessee.

Written by Dante


38 comments on “Subterranean Wildlife”

  1. jaquesbernard452:

    I was just googling around about this when I came by your blog post. I’m just stopping by to say that I truly liked seeing this post, it is very clear and well written. Are you planning topost more about this? It seems like there’s more depth here for more posts.


  2. admin:

    Hi,
    Thank you for your comments. There is undoubtedly a lot of room for more posts about subterranean wildlife. I plan on future posts after visits to specific subterranean systems and I’m happy to answer any questions here. I intended for this post to be an opener where people can see just a few of the spectacular subterranean species we have in North America.
    Thanks for your time,
    Danté


  3. Henry W. Robison:

    Spectacular photos of a little known fauna! This blog idea is fantastic and you definitely need to keep this up as a way to let folks see your beautiful photographs and to educate individuals about the subterranean world that lives benath us. Keep up your great work Dante!

    Rob


  4. Dante:

    Rob,
    Thanks for the compliments! It means a lot to me coming from you. I have quite a bit of subterranean work planned so hopefully I’ll have a good bit to post.
    Cheers,
    Dante


  5. Matt:

    I recognize some of those critters!


  6. Dante:

    Matt,
    I’ve really enjoyed the time we have been able to spend working in the field together. I appreciate the effort you have made to show me some exceptional subterranean fauna. I sincerely hope there will be a lot more!
    Cheers,
    Dante


  7. MichaellaS:

    tks for the effort you put in here I appreciate it!


  8. Arun:

    Pretty cool post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really liked reading your blog posts. Anyway
    I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon!


  9. mary-aloe:

    I wanted to introduce myself – Thanks :)

    Mary Aloe


  10. ElenaLisvato:

    thanks !! very helpful post!


  11. Sam Martin:

    Wow, great images and what a great intro to subterranean animals! I came across the photos while searching for reference photos of isopods for my own master’s project in the Ozarks. I’m looking at the habitats of paedomorphic and metamorphic localities of E. tynerensis, including all biotic and abiotic variables. The Plethodontids of the interior highlands really are fascinating, it’s such a great zone. You mentioned doing your masters work at OU; who did you study under there? I worked for a couple years at Sam Noble in Herpetology while doing my undergrad at OU, before coming to TU under Dr. Bonett.

    Do you by any chance have a flickr or any other site for more of your photos? I really enjoyed these!


  12. Dante:

    Hi Sam,
    Thanks for the comments. When I was working on my Masters project at the University of Oklahoma I studied under Dr. Jan Caldwell. I appreciate that she allowed me to look into the ecology of Ozark Blind Cave Salamanders, Eurycea spelaea.
    Your advisor is a good friend and we are actually working on a couple of projects right now.
    I have a few more images up from my main website page http://www.anotheca.com
    under the “photographer” tab but thats about it.
    You are in a great lab and there is no doubt in my mind that you will have a great experience at TU. Best of luck.


  13. Todd Pusser:

    Dante,

    Amazing images. I was wondering about your technique for image capture and post processing. Are you using squeeze boxes and lighting the subjects with LEDs or strobes? Any darkening of the background in post??? I am keen to learn any pointers about your excellent photography. Keep up the good work documenting our planet’s amazing biodiversity.


  14. Dante:

    Hi Todd,

    I shoot a lot of the aquatic fauna in photographic tanks, squeeze boxes work just fine. Post-process work includes cropping, removal of bubbles or anything else unwanted in the water column, and I usually make a copy of the image for the internet that is lightened up a bit more than normal. Many computer screens render images darker than they really are. The subjects are all lit using a macro flash unit produced originally by Minolta and now by Sony with dual flash heads. If you have taken an image and need to darken the background just a little bit, Photoshop allows that feature under their “exposure” option under the “adjustments” category. The black backgrounds here are not post process.

    Thanks for the comments!

    Cheers,
    Danté


  15. Maria Schophagen:

    DO u know the internal anatomy of the Ozark Cavefish??


  16. Dante:

    Hi Maria,

    Dr. Tom Poulson, Dr. GO Graening, and Matt Niemiller have taught me a little bit about some aspects of Amblyopsid anatomy. Was there something specific you wanted to know?


  17. Sam:

    Dr. Fenolio,

    What is the deal with the “blind groundwater dwelling Eurycea?” What species is that? Looks like Eurycea (Haideotriton) wallacei.

    Sam


  18. Dante:

    Hi Sam,

    The salamander in that image is one I have been working on with Andy Gluesenkamp. It may be a new species or it may be Eurycea rathbuni. Still working on it.

    Cheers,
    Dante


  19. Clay Roberts:

    I have an opening (surface level water-into an aquifer, similar to a South America cenote) on my property that was used in the ‘dust-bowl’ days in Oklahoma for local water. It is at least 250 deep (straight down) and the water flows out during rains and begins as a stream to Gar Creek in Wagoner County. The Creek Indians used to camp at the site – obviously for the water access. I have found sea shells and remains of various ‘crawfish’ on a regular basis. I am going to see if I can determine the total depth and other details that may interest you. Best regards!


  20. Dante:

    Hi Clay,

    Your land sounds amazing. I’d love to check it out some time! I look forward to hearing more about it.

    Cheers and Thanks,
    Dante


  21. Dante:

    Thanks for the link!


  22. Mark Ingram:

    Nice photography. I hope I get to your “stage” some day.

    Mark


  23. Nancy Faust:

    Normally I do not read article on blogs, but I would like to say that this was great. The diversity you have shown of subterranean creatures is amazing. Have you thought about doing a book?

    Thanks, quite nice

    Nancy


  24. Ray:

    OMG

    loving the photography ;)

    Keep it up, Ray


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  26. Susan Hallmark:

    I’m not sure how you get the stark backgrounds but these are some of the best portraits of strange animals I’ve ever seen.

    Please share more-Susan Hallmark


  27. Dante:

    Thanks Ray. About all I can do to relax any longer is grab my photographic equipment and head out on a shoot.


  28. Dante:

    Hi Nancy, there isn’t a single caving trip that goes by when I am not amazed by some form of cool wildlife. I love cave work. Thanks for the comments!


  29. Dante:

    Hi Mark, getting to a “stage” is all a mental thing. Taking the shots and enjoying the experience is what its all about. Thanks!


  30. Dine Pollock:

    I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your site.. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often… Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Subterranean wildife is awesome


  31. Charise Speciolavita:

    Striking imagery


  32. Diane Gray:

    So many creatures live right below our feet and we don’t know anything about them or that they are there. I love the opportunity to learn about these animals, especially with the great photography. Please keep up with this blog!*^$#@!
    Diane Gray


  33. Zack Leschp:

    Have looked around the net for shots like these and they are like hen’s teeth. You have skills. Please keep sharing. Zack


  34. Dante:

    Thanks for the kind words Zack!


  35. Dante:

    Diane, I agree. The biodiversity living in our subterranean waters and caves is astounding. Hope to share a good bit of it with folks here. Thank you!


  36. Dante:

    Charise and Dine, Thanks for the kind words. The blog follows the “ecologist theme” on Wordpress. Yep, things that live below ground are amazing and studying them is addictive!


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