Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Researchers have discovered a "marvelous" and "extraordinary" new cave-adapted species in Turkmenistan, the first entirely subterranean terrestrial species found in the country.
The newly discovered species, Turkmenocampa mirabilis, required its own genus and is the first of its order discovered in Central Asia. "Turkmenocampa" is a reference to the creature's home country, while "mirabilis" is Latin for "unusual, amazing, wonderful, remarkable."
Turkmenocampa mirabilis is an insect-like hexapod belonging to the order Diplura, whose members are sometimes called two-pronged bristletails.
The cave where the new species was found is situated among the foothills of the Koytendag Mountains, a range stretching from south-east of Turkmenistan across the border into Uzbekistan. It is a spur of Central Asia's Pamir-Alay mountain range. The dramatic landscape is a unique amalgam of desert, ravines, peaks and ridges, dotted with limestone caves and sinkholes. Scientists believe the little-explored region is likely hiding a wealth of undocumented fauna.
Kaptarhana cave -- where the new species was discovered -- is massive and appears mostly desolate. Visual observations revealed no signs of life. But researchers were able to trap the strange new creature using stinky cheese baits.
"What we have here is not only a new remarkable organism, but also an amazing and unusual cave critter that has undergone a long evolutionary journey to adapt to the underground environment of Central Asia," Alberto Sendra, a biologist at the University of Alcalá in Spain, said in a news release.
Researchers detailed their discovery this week in the journal Subterranean Biology.
"While many speleobiologists consider the terrestrial cave fauna in Central Asia as poor, it is places such as Kaptarhana that can turn the tables by giving us new insights about the biodiversity richness, evolutionary history, formation and functioning of the underground ecosystems of this part of the world," said Pavel Stoev, researcher at Bulgaria's National Museum of Natural History.