Two new species of pseudo-scorpions discovered in Northern Arizona

Two new species of ‘pseudo-scorpions’ have been discovered in a cave on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon. Named Hesperochernes bradybaughi and Tuberochernes cohni they are fully described in the November Issue of the Journal of Arachnology.

Unlike true scorpions, these new species lack a tail with poisonous stinger. They instead have venomous pincers which they use to immobilize their prey. They are only 3 millimetres in length and feed on tiny invertebrates such as springtails, book lice and mites. Extremely elusive creatures, they are also sightless – likely an adaptation from living in the dark cave environment.

One of the two new species (Hesperochernes bradybaughi) of cave-adapted pseudo-scorpion discovered in a cave on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon (credit: J. Judson Wynne, Northern Arizona University)

One of the two new species (Hesperochernes bradybaughi) of cave-adapted pseudo-scorpions discovered in a cave on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon (credit: J. Judson Wynne, Northern Arizona University)

The researchers first discovered the two new species during expeditions conducted between 2005 and 2007 in a small cave – only 76 m in length – in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. Despite its small size, the cave is famous for supporting the highest diversity of cave-dwelling troglomorphic arthropods of any known cave in the area. It took years before the species could actually be classified as ‘unique’. “Contrary to popular belief, rarely are we in the field, collect an animal and then brandish our grubby field flasks of whiskey to toast a new species discovery” – one of the leading researchers, Judson Wynne, admitted. To confirm the novelty of the species, they had to be studied by a taxonomic specialist, who analysed and compared their details with the existing data on similar species. A thickened pair of legs and a mound on the pincer of one species, and a much deeper pincer than other pseudo-scorpions on the other eventually qualified each as a distinct species – study co-author Mark Harvey, senior curator at the Western Australian Museum in Perth, explained.

The discovery of these two new pseudo-scorpions confirms the extraordinary variety of species the cave can support. The cave is one of the largest roosts of crickets in northern Arizona and is also home to a curious, eyeless fungus beetle. With such premises it is not unlikely that sooner rather than later some new species of arthropods will be found in this tiny, yet uniquely vibrant, cave habitat.

 

 

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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