Cave Diving Experts Discover Four New Fish Species in Meghalaya Caves

SHILLONG: 2 May 2023 (PTI Source)

Explorers unearthed a trove of fantastical fishy creatures lurking deep within the shadowy caverns of Meghalaya, and their discovery is nothing short of jaw-dropping! The ZSI Scientists (Zoological Survey of India) have unveiled a list of four incredible true troglobiont species, each more fascinating than the last. These creepy creatures are known as Schistura papulifera, Schistura larketensis, Schistura ijuensis, and Neolissochilus pnar, and they call the mysterious caves of Meghalaya their one and only home.

These troglobionts are truly the stuff of legend, sporting all kinds of wild adaptations like the absence of pigment, sensors that work even in complete darkness, and the total loss of their eyesight. But their most impressive feat is their ability to survive in caves where light cannot penetrate, a fact that even has scientists scratching their heads!

These bizarre cave-dwelling species came to light after an episode from Mann Ki Baat provided the research team with the insights that they used to document the wonders of Meghalaya's mysterious caves. This discovery will provide awareness to the locals and stakeholders to conserve these unique and precious habitats.

The groundbreaking study was spearheaded by Dimos Khynriam, Boni Amin Laskar, and L Kosygin Singh, and their findings were published in the ZSI record journal. But they won't be the last scientists to brave the depths of Meghalaya's extensive cave systems in search of new troglobionts. According to L Kosygin Singh of the Zoological Survey of India, many more cave-dwelling fish species are still waiting to be discovered, and tragically, many of them may become extinct before we even know they exist.

Meghalaya is known for its breathtaking scenery, rolling hills, and extensive cave systems. It boasts more than 1,000 caves, some of which are among the longest and deepest in all of India. The caves are spread across the state's southern boundary, from the West Garo Hills to the West and East Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills. This abundance of caves is thanks to the abundant rainfall, high-quality limestone,and high elevation.

The discovery of these four troglobionts is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Meghalaya's incredible biodiversity. But unfortunately, many of these species are at risk of extinction due to mining, quarrying, and deforestation. Schistura sijuensis, for example, is only found in Garo Hills’ Siju cave and is categorized as endangered (EN) in the IUCN Red List due to threats from quarrying and mining for limestone.

Despite the challenges, scientists and conservationists are determined to protect these unique habitats and their many strange and wonderful inhabitants.