In the dark and isolated caves there are the most curious and tenacious forms of life, but the one recently discovered in a couple of Canadian karst caves seems to beat them all, in terms of resilience. The animal, a small arthropod completely new to science, may have survived the last barricaded ice age in the caves, or embarked on a long intercontinental journey to reach its current home. In any case, a remarkable undertaking.
The small spectrum. The creature with the scientific name of Haplocampa wagnelli, described in the journal Subterranean Biology, is a lengthened creature of about 5 mm belonging to the order of the Dipluri: it is a white arthropod, completely devoid of pigmentation, with six legs, long antennas and five different types of odoriferous receptors - the perfect features for living underground.
According to Alberto Sendra, the scientist of the Universidad de Alcalá (Madrid), who led the research, would be one of the most endangered species of cave animals ever. His "home" is a system of limestone caves on Vancouver Island, Canada, whose entrance was closed by ice 26, 000 years ago, during the Last Maximum Glacial, the period of maximum expansion of the ice during the last glaciation.
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Two fascinating hypotheses. This means that the little one, which resembles other species found in various parts of the world and especially in Asia (Siberia, Japan and the Korean Peninsula), could have followed two evolutionary routes: it could have remained closed in a cave sealed by ice and developed useful weapons to survive in a glacial environment; or, it could have crossed the Beringia (the land bridge that in various geological periods connected Alaska and Siberia) after the end of the glaciation, entering the cave finally unsealed.
The second hypothesis seems the most probable: the arthropod could have crossed the tongue of land between Asia and the Americas around 20 thousand years ago, completing the exodus before the Beringia was completely submerged by the seas, 11 thousand years ago. In this case it would be a new, surprising example of ecological dispersion of a species.