The pinkish eyeless catfish had never been found in the U.S. before. The fish species previously existed only in Mexico.
An extremely rare species of catfish has been recently discovered in Texas. The eyeless, pinkish white catfish is unlike any other catfish found in U.S. territory, in fact, it is not found anywhere in the world except Mexico.
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The pair of catfish were sighted in an underwater limestone cave in Amistad National Park near Del Rio, Texas and has been later identified as Mexican blindcat. The Mexican blindcat is a species that can grow up to 3 inches in length and inhabits freshwater wells and caves. It has a unique translucent skin and is deprived of externally visible eyes.
The catfish species is native to Coahuila, a northeastern Mexican state located on the U.S. border. The presence of Mexican blindcat in U.S. cave supports the theory that water-filled caves lying in Mexico are somehow connected to U.S. underground water sources and the flow of the water has caused them to enter foreign territory.
“Since the 1960s there have been rumors of sightings of blind, white catfishes in that area, but this is the first confirmation,” said Dean Hendrickson, curator of ichthyology at The University of Texas who identified the fish.
“I’ve seen more of these things than anybody, and these specimens look just like the ones from Mexico.”
Mexican blindcat was believed to be found in a single locality in northern Mexico until 1954, but recently few more localities have also been discovered. Like many other animals that live in caves, Mexican blindcat also has no eyes probably at the expense of the development of other senses and many researches also suggest that this species has remarkable hearing ability.
“Cave-dwelling animals are fascinating in that they have lost many of the characteristics we are familiar with in surface animals, such as eyes, pigmentation for camouflage, and speed,” said biologist Peter Sprouse. “They have found an ecological niche where none of those things are needed and in there they have evolved extra-sensory abilities to succeed in total darkness.”
Mexican blindcat is threatened by an array of factors and is currently listed as ‘Endangered’ species in IUCN Red List.
“Aquifer systems like the one that supports this rare fish are also the lifeblood of human populations and face threats from contamination and over-pumping of groundwater. The health of rare and endangered species like this fish at Amistad can help indicate the overall health of the aquifer and water resources upon which many people depend.” Jack Johnson, a caver and National Park Service resource manager at Amistad, who first spotted the pale, pinkish blindcat in April 2015.
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The small fish species has been sent to San Antonio Zoo which has specially designed lab facility to keep underwater species safe and healthy.