Four eyeless animal species discovered in dark depths of Colorado caves

Photo Credit: David Steinmann, Research Associate, Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Researchers recently found four new animal species living in the deep and dark caves of Colorado – three of which were named to honor Colorado residents. The four species are millipedes, considered to be some of the smallest in the world.

The previously undiscovered cave-dwelling millipedes – eyeless and albino – were identified by David Steinmann (a research associate in the zoology department at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science) and Dr. William Shear (a professor of biology emeritus at Hampden-Sydney College) after two decades of research. The new genus has been dubbed “Coloradesmus” as they are only known to exist in the state of Colorado.

Four eyeless animal species discovered in dark depths of Colorado caves

David Steinmann, Research Associate at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science explores a tight passageway inside a cave. Photo Credit: David Steinmann.

Using antennae and small hairs, the eyeless millipedes are able to adapt to their life in total darkness. They are harmless to humans – evolving underground for millions of years. While it’s not uncommon for species who spend most of their lives in the dark to lack eyes, these millipedes have just 17 pairs of legs. Most millipedes typically sport around 1,000 pairs of legs – hence the name.

“Finding a new species does not require traveling to exotic places, there is so much to be discovered right here in Colorado,” said Steinmann. “There are many unique areas to explore in our wonderful state.”

Here’s a breakdown of the new species that were discovered.

1. Coloradesmus manitou

The first new cave millipedes were discovered at Cave of the Winds (Manitou Springs). David Hubbard from Virginia also helped with this remarkable new discovery.

2. Coloradesmus beckleyi

The second species was named in honor of Steve Beckley, the owner of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park (Glenwood Springs) and an outspoken advocate for cave protection. Thin as dental floss, this millipedes measured in at 4 mm long. They are said to be among some of the smallest millipedes on earth.

3. Coloradesmus warneri

Four eyeless animal species discovered in dark depths of Colorado caves

Coloradesmus warneri, one of four new species of millipedes that researchers discovered. Photo Credit: David Steinmann, Research Associate, Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

The third new species was named to honor of Ed Warner, an avid environmentalist known for his contributions to Colorado State University and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Steinmann initially made the discovery of this millipede in 2009.

4. Coloradesmus hopkinsae

The fourth new species was given its name in honor of Kay Hopkins of the U.S. Forest Service White River National Forest branch for her dedication to cave conservation and preservation. Steinmann and Hubbard have since discovered the new species living in five U.S. Forest Service caves.

About the researcher

David Steinmann, his wife Debbie, and their teenage son Nathan, explore high altitude caves to discover new species of life, often where no one has looked before. With help from Stephenson and museum curators Frank Krell and Paula Cushing, Steinmann has found and identified over a hundred new cave invertebrate species.

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