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Slovak zoologists discovered three new species of cave animals

ZOOLOGISTS from the Natural Sciences Faculty of Košice’s Pavel Jozef Šafárik University (UPJŠ), in cooperation with the Slovak Caves Administration in Liptovský Mikuláš, have discovered three new species of cave animals living in Slovakia.

ZOOLOGISTS from the Natural Sciences Faculty of Košice’s Pavel Jozef Šafárik University (UPJŠ), in cooperation with the Slovak Caves Administration in Liptovský Mikuláš, have discovered three new species of cave animals living in Slovakia.

“They are small representatives of wingless insects from the subclass of springtails,” Ľubomír Kováč, head of the zoology department of UPJŠ Biology and Ecology-related Sciences at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, told the TASR newswire. The names of the new species are Megalothorax hipmani, Megalothorax carpaticus and Megalothorax tatricus. Kováč explained that collecting cave creatures is rather demanding due to their miniature body size of some half a millimetre. The shape of their bodies, with visibly elongated legs, indicates that the animals are have adapted – over millions of years – to the living conditions in the caves (with temperatures between 5-10 degrees Celsius, remarkably high humidity and limited food resources) and they could not survive in any other environment.

Moreover, their bodies are covered with sensory hairs that substitute for vision. In addition, their legs are equipped with small elongated claws, which facilitate easier movement on the slippery cave walls and water surface. The newly-discovered springtails live on cave microorganisms, mainly microscopic fungi, and are themselves part of the cave food chain, UPJŠ spokesperson Jaroslava Oravcová informed TASR.

Kováč also said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, that the discovery and study of these species prove, among other things, that like in the south of Europe, specialised cave fauna adapted exclusively to this habitat here as well. “In caves, it is usually bigger animals like bats, salamanders, beetles, butterflies or spiders that catch the most attention,” Kováč explained. “But they are inhabited by a much more varied spectrum of living organisms that might not be evident at first sight: especially various bacteria, fungi and kelp, as well as arthropods. However, only a limited number of species have adapted permanently and exclusively to life underground, Kováč concluded.

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