Blog entries / Contaminants / Endangered Species

Prehistoric isopod offers insights to Virginia’s drinking water

Millions of years ago, a tiny marine creature thrived alongside the dinosaurs.

A closeup view of Madison Cave isopod found during a survey at Steger's Fossure in Virginia. Credit: USFWS

A closeup view of Madison Cave isopod found during a survey at Steger’s Fossure in Virginia. Credit: USFWS

Group of biologists at the entrance to Limekiln Cave in Virginia to survey for Madison Cave Isopod. Credit: USFWS

Group of biologists at the entrance to Limekiln Cave in Virginia to survey for Madison Cave Isopod. Credit: USFWS

After ocean waters receded from its habitat, these blind and colorless crustaceans evolved into freshwater swimmers called isopods. One of those isopods, the Madison Cave isopod (Antrolana lira), survived millions of years and now resides in only a few underground caves and aquifers in parts of Virginia and West Virginia. But it offers biologists much broader insights. Protecting this diminutive species means protecting a prehistoric organism, as well as safeguarding a clean water supply.

Check out other stories of endangered plant and animal conservation in the Northeast – We’re sharing them throughout the year!

The Madison Cave isopod, a crustacean that only grows to the size of a paperclip, was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1982. Since this isopod’s family is more typically found in marine waters, biologists believe these crustaceans were left behind millions of years ago. Sumalee Hoskin, a biologist in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Virginia Field Office in Gloucester, considers these organisms to be living fossils in this ever-changing world.

A biologist places shrimp bait to survey Madison Cave isopods. Credit: USFWS

A biologist places shrimp bait to survey Madison Cave isopods. Credit: USFWS

In addition to their unique status in biological history, the habitat of these isopods is of top importance. This is why Hoskin and others are working with to craft management guidelines for landowners and land managers within the Madison Cave isopod’s range. …Continue reading this story!

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