New species of giant crayfish found in Tennessee and Alabama

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 20, 2011 10:20 hrs

Two aquatic biologists have discovered a distinctive species of crayfish in Tennessee and Alabama that is at least twice the size of its competitors.

The new crayfish belongs to the genus Barbicambarus, which have unusual 'bearded' antennae; the antennae are covered with a luxurious fringe of tiny, hair-like bristles, called setae, which enhance their sensory function.

"If you were an aquatic biologist and you had seen this thing, because of the size and the setae on the antennae, you would have recognized it as something really, really different and you would have saved it," said University of Illinois aquatic biologist Chris Taylor, the curator of crustaceans at the Illinois Natural History Survey and a co-discoverer of the new species with Eastern Kentucky University biological sciences professor Guenter Schuster.

Schuster quickly realized that the new crayfish differed in significant ways from B. cornutus.

"And the DNA said just what the morphology said: This thing is pretty different," Taylor said.

The giant crayfish of Shoal Creek was a new species. They named it Barbicambarus simmonsi, in honor of the TVA scientist who had collected the first specimen.

The fact that a distinct species was overlooked for so long indicates that studies of species diversity in the U.S. are not getting adequate resources, Schuster said.

"We spend millions of dollars every year on federal grants to send biologists to the Amazon, to Southeast Asia - all over the world looking for and studying the biodiversity of those regions," Schuster said.

"But the irony is that there's very little money that is actually spent in our own country to do the same thing. And there are still lots of areas right here in the U.S. that need to be explored."

The new species is described in a paper in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. (ANI)