CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Two aquatic biologists have proven that you don't have to travel to exotic locales to search for unusual new species. They discovered a distinctive species of crayfish in Tennessee and Alabama that is at least twice the size of its competitors. Its closest genetic relative, once thought to be the only species in its genus and discovered in 1884 about 130 miles away in Kentucky, can grow almost as big as a lobster.
The researchers found their first specimen under one of the biggest rocks in the deepest part of a creek that has been a (literal) stomping ground for aquatic biologists for at least half a century. The new species is described in a paper in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.
The new crayfish belongs to the genus Barbicambarus, which in addition to being big is very distinctive. Most notably, Barbicambarus have unusual "bearded" antennae; the antennae are covered with a luxurious fringe of tiny, hair-like bristles, called setae, which enhance their sensory function.
"This isn't a crayfish that someone would have picked up and just said, 'Oh, it's another crayfish,' and put it back," said University of Illinois aquatic biologist Chris Taylor, the curator of crustaceans at the Illinois Natural History Survey and a co-discoverer of the new species with Eastern Kentucky University biological sciences professor Guenter Schuster. "If you were an aquatic biologist and you had seen this thing, because of the size and the setae on the antennae, you would have recognized it as something really, really different and you would have saved it."
Schuster first learned of the crayfish in 2009 when a colleague forwarded photos from a man who had seen the animal in Shoal Creek, a stream in s
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign