Newly discovered insect in caves in B.C. could be a survivor of the Ice Age



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VANCOUVER – A newly discovered species of insect species found in British Columbia may be a survivor of the last ice age, scientists say.

Haplocampa wagnelli, the arthropod found in a limestone cave near Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, is about three to four millimeters long, with six legs, with no eyes and a whitish, almost transparent color.

Alberto Sendra, the lead author of a study published in the journal Subterranean Biology on Tuesday, said the existence of the small insect opens up possibilities for how species survive in different climates and conditions.

"This is a very intriguing species because it seems that it lived underground in caves – for a little or a long time," Sendra said in an interview.

"That means they can survive in the glacial period. And this is very remarkable because there are no examples of species living in underground areas in the north. "

Sendra, a professor of animal biology at the University of Alcala in Madrid, said there is a possibility that the insect may migrate to the northern United States and settle in the Vancouver caves.

He said he could not say how old the insect is – only that it is primitive, and his discovery raises several questions.

"How can they survive there? That opens the possibility in the future to look for species in other places where nobody looks for them, "he said.

"We are always looking for warmer climates in the south and this species suggests that we need to look for more in the Northern Hemisphere."

The insect's name pays homage to the digger and studies co-author Craig Wagnell, who spent years exploring caves on Vancouver Island.

A group from the Central Island Caving Club, including Wagnell, first recorded the beast in 2017, and Sendra said he spent the last year studying it.

Unlike most species adapted to caves that are elongated and thin, this insect only has slightly elongated antennae and legs and a thicker body, according to a press release announcing the study.

It also shows a close relationship with species found in Japan and Siberia, which is evidence of dispersal events where populations would cross the land bridge linking America to Asia, the statement said.

The study said Vancouver Island has more caves mapped and explored than the rest of Canada combined, and many contain unique features including streams and rivers that run through most of the year.

The caves help the creeks keep water temperature and water quality constant throughout the year, which helps sustain a variety of fish and wildlife, the study said, noting that little was done to protect the caves from logging, mining and recreation.

Some of the caves have been misused and need more to be done to protect them and the wildlife they support, the researchers said.

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