January 20, 2011

New Giant Crayfish Species Found In Tennessee Creek

It isn't quite the "Creature from the Black Lagoon," but a relatively large new species of crayfish has been found in a creek bed in Tennessee.

The new species, called Barbicambarus simmonsi, is about 5 inches long and has antennae covered with a sensitive fringe of tiny, hair-like bristles, called setae.

"More than half of the 600 known species of crayfish in the world are found in North America," University of Illinois aquatic biologist Chris Taylor told Reuters.

"This thing had not been seen by scientific eyes until last year," Taylor wrote in a statement.

The new crayfish should not have been easily overlooked, as it is huge -- twice the size of other species, the team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Eastern Kentucky University said. However the crustacean is also quite rare, they report in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

"This isn't a crayfish that someone would have picked up and just said, "ËœOh, it's another crayfish,' and put it back," Taylor told Reuters. "You would have recognized it as something really, really different and you would have saved it," Taylor added in a statement.

Taylor and Guenter Schuster of Eastern Kentucky University found their first specimen of the new species under one of the biggest rocks in the deepest part of a commonly explored Tennessee creek.

"We spend millions of dollars every year on federal grants to send biologists to the Amazon, to Southeast Asia -- all over the world looking for and studying the biodiversity of those regions," Schuster said in a statement. "But the irony is that there's very little money that is actually spent in our own country to do the same thing and there are still lots of areas right here in the US that need to be explored."


Image 1: The new species, Barbicambarus simmonsi (left) is more than twice the size of a typical crayfish found in Shoal Creek (which drains into the Tennessee River) -- and yet generations of aquatic biologists who frequented the area somehow missed it. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

Image 2: This region of Shoal Creek, where the new species was found, has been a hotspot for crayfish and the biologists who study them. Credit: Guenter Schuster


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