Eyeless catfish discovered in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas — An extremely rare eyeless catfish species previously known to exist only in Mexico has been discovered in Texas by the curator of ichthyology at the University of Texas at Austin, Dean Hendrickson.

Hendrickson identified the fish in a deep limestone cave at Amistad National Recreation Area near Del Rio, Texas, as the endangered Mexican blindcat (Prietella phreatophila), according to a University of Texas at Austin report.

The Mexican blindcat, a species that grows to no more than 3 inches in length, is known to live in areas supported by the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer that underlies the Rio Grande basin in Texas and Coahuila. The new blindcat finding lends additional weight to a theory that water-filled caves below the Rio Grande may connect the Texas and Mexico portions of the aquifer, according to the report.

Jack Johnson, a caver and National Park Service resource manager at Amistad, first spotted the fish with no eyes in April 2015. Johnson and biologist Peter Sprouse of Zara Environmental LLC led the team that found the fish again last month.

The Mexican blindcat was originally described in 1954 as dwelling in wells and springs near Melchor Múzquiz in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. It was subsequently listed as an endangered species by the Mexican government and as a foreign endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Hendrickson led efforts to locate additional blindcat sites in Mexico and Texas for years but only located them in Mexico on previous expeditions.

Mexican blindcats are a pale pink color because their blood can be seen through the translucent skin, and they dwell exclusively in groundwater.

The fish will be maintained in a facility designed to accommodate cave and aquifer species at the San Antonio Zoo’s Department of Conservation and Research.

The finding brings the number of blind catfish species within the U.S. to three, all found only in Texas. The two other species of blind catfish in Texas, the toothless blindcat (Trogloglanis pattersoni) and the widemouth blindcat (Satan eurystomus), live in part of the Edwards Aquifer complex, the deep Edwards pool below the city of San Antonio.

To read the full report visit tinyurl.com/eyeless-catfish.

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