Rafael Jordana, Enrique Barquero
This is the new species of springtail, Pygmarrhopalites maestrazgoensis.
OurAmazingPlanet
updated 11/28/2012 3:12:38 PM ET 2012-11-28T20:12:38

Three bizarre-looking springtails, tiny insectlike creatures, have been discovered in a Spanish cave.

Springtails are among the most ancient and widespread animals on the planet. Like insects, they have six legs, but are small, more primitive and lack wings. They usually have a furca, or a tail used to spring away from danger, hence the name "springtails." Many cannot be seen with the naked eye; the largest species is about 0.24 inches long (6 millimeters).

The three species — dubbed Pygmarrhopalites maestrazgoensis, P. cantavetulae and Oncopodura fadriquei — are very different from one another.

But each of the new species has the requisite springy tails and hairy, tiny bodies, resembling Lilliputian monsters. One of them, O. fadriquei, lacks eyes.

Rafael Jordana, Enrique Barquero
Oncopodura fadriquei, one of the newfound springtails species, lacks eyes.

They were found by researchers from Spain's University of Navarra in the isolated Maestrazgo caves in the Teruel region of Spain, at elevations up to 6,560 feet (2,000 meters).

Outside the isolated caves, winter temperatures drop to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius). Inside, however, temperatures stay between 41 and 54 F (5 to 11 C).

The scientists plan to study how these creatures adapt to the cold, wet and lightless conditions in the cave, according to a release from the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology.

"Like other cave-adapted animals, the (springtails) require greater chemical sensitivity as they cannot use their sight in the absence of light," said University of Navarra researcher Enrique Baquero in the statement.

"Studying fauna in the caves allows us to expand on our knowledge of biodiversity," Baquero said.

"In the case of the three new species that we have found in Teruel, they are organisms that have survived totally isolated for thousands of years. Having 'relatives' on the surface means they act like relics from the past that have survived the climate change (that has) taken place on the outside of the caves."

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The new species are described in a study published in October in the journal Zootaxa.

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