New Species Discovered in Meghalaya Cave: The Blind Albino Crab
India’s eighth longest cave in Meghalaya has revealed one of its closely guarded secrets. Researchers have stumbled up an almost blind, albino crab that had to date remained hidden in the darkest corners of the 7.3 km long cave.
Scientists of the Zoological Survey of India, after preliminary inspection and discussions with international experts, claimed that it was a new species, unknown to scientists so far. This is the first cave dwelling crab discovered from India.
‘It is definitely a new species. This is the first cave crab from India. Its physical features are quite different from the crabs we see around or from other cave crabs discovered earlier in Asia,’ said Santanu Mitra a ZSI scientist researching on crabs who inspected the specimens.
It is estimated that around 8.7 million species of plants and animals live on the earth out of which only around 1.2 million have been discovered. More than 80% species are yet to be identified by scientists. Around 97,000 animal species have been identified from India so far.
‘I am in touch with Mitra and have seen the pictures. It may well be a new species. There is nothing like it I know from all of India or the countries around it,’ Peter Ng Kee Lin a world renowned field biologist from University of Singapore and an expert on fresh water crabs, told HT over email.
ZSI scientists after discussing with international experts claimed that it belongs to the Teretamon genus. This is the third species of the genus. While the first one was discovered from Myanmar several decades ago, the second one was discovered from Mizoram by Mitra in 2016. The first two were however not cave dwelling.
The discovery was made by Parveen Farzana Absar, 29, who is pursuing her masters in wildlife sciences from Aligarh Muslim University. The researcher was inspecting various caves of east-Jaintia hills in Meghalaya over the past two months for her dissertation paper on cave biology.
‘I would like to name it Teretamon absarum after my parents – Ahsan Absar and Farzana Absar – as a tribute to them. It would also a tribute to Prashant Chaudhari who motivated me,’ said Parveen.
On March 29 she stumbled upon the crab family around 200 m from the mouth of the cave. It was brought to the notice of Illona J Kharkongor a ZSI scientist in Meghalaya specialising in cave biology. Kharkongor in turn got in touch with crab experts in the ZSI headquarters in Kolkata for further details.
Unlike other crabs, which come in various colours such as red, blue and olive green and sizes, these crabs are albino with small bodies measuring less than 2 cm. While other crabs have well developed claws often larger than their bodies, these cave crabs have short and slender legs with hairs on them.
They are perfectly adapted to cave-life and live in ‘dark zones’ under pitch black darkness, where temperatures remain almost constant. Because there is no light they have no colouring pigments and hence albino and blind,” said Mitra.
Blind albino caves crabs have been earlier reported from some Asian countries including China, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. Scientists, however, claimed that the Meghalaya-crab is different from other cave crabs discovered in other countries
‘While this one has a large eye socket but a retina smaller than a poppy seed the former ones have smaller sockets. In others, the body is serrated (like a saw) on the sides and do not have hairy legs. This has a smooth body with hairs on its legs. The other cave crabs had larger bodies sometimes reaching up to even 2 inches, but this one has much smaller body. Even the shape of the penis of the newly discovered one is different from its predecessors,’ said Mitra.
The researcher is now preparing it to publish her findings in some peer reviewed journal, scientists from ZSI said that the latest finding would also find a place in the list of Animal Discoveries – an annual publication of ZSI – as a new species not known to scientists till date.
‘There haven’t been enough studies on biospeleology (cave biology) in India. Describing a new species requires years of expertise and a depth of knowledge. I congratulate both the ZSI scientist and the student who discovered the species,’ said K Venkataraman former ZSI director.