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'Pseudoscorpions' Found Prowling in Grand Canyon Cave

Dec 11, 2014 02:11 PM EST
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Two new species of "pseudoscorpions" were recently discovered prowling a cave on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, boasting some rather unusual features.

For one, given that these elusive creatures live in the dark depths of a cave where no light can reach them, they learned to adapt to their environment by losing their eyes - not an uncommon feature among cave-dwellers. But perhaps more intriguing is the fact that they don't possess the characteristic scorpion tail that delivers a venomous sting to nearby prey.

Instead, the arachnids have venom-packed pincers, capable of immobilizing their victims and helping them hitchhike to other places on the backs of birds, mammals and other insects.

Given the striking similarity (even without the tail) between these lookalikes and true scorpions, researchers were unable to identify the duo as a new species until now. Both pseudoscorpions were first found during expeditions to the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument from 2005-2007.

"Contrary to popular belief, rarely are we in the field, collect an animal then brandish our grubby field flasks of whiskey to toast a new species discovery," lead author J. Judson Wynneof Northern Arizona University jokingly told Live Science.

But thanks to a consulting taxonomic specialist, the research team was indeed able to celebrate the discovery of a new species when they realized that one of them had a thickened pair of legs and a mound on the pincer, while another had a much deeper pincer compared to other existing pseudoscorpions.

Thus, the imposters were dubbed Hesperochernes bradybaughii andTuberochernes cohni, respectively.

They measure about 0.12 inches (3 millimeters) long and feed on tiny invertebrates smaller than a grain of rice. And the fact that both species can comfortably compete for the same food resources while living in such close proximity suggests that this 250-foot (76-meter) cave boasts some incredible biodiversity.

If you should somehow find yourself spelunking in this Grand Canyon cave, don't worry. Unlike their dopplegangers, pseudoscorpions don't have a tail with a venomous stinger and so are harmless to humans. In fact, they are actually beneficial to us since they prey on clothes moth larvae, carpet beetle larvae, booklice, ants, mites and small flies. Not to mention that they're so tiny you won't even notice them.

Both new species are described in more detail in the November issue of the Journal of Arachnology.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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