New blind cave loach described

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A new species of loach, lacking externally visible eyes, has been described from a system of flooded underground caves in northern Vietnam.

Schistura spekuli, a member of the family Balitoridae, has just been described by Dr Maurice Kottelat in the journal Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters.

The nemacheiline loach, which grows to around 15cm/6", was found in a cave near Tam Duong in the Lai Chau Province of northern Vietnam.

Since the loach has no need for camouflage underground it's plain pinky-white in colour, and its eyes have been covered over with flesh, making them invisible externally.

The fish were found 100m inside the cave about 23m below ground and were found in a group of around 200 individuals. Because of the lack of eyes, they didn't react to light, so they could be clearly seen by torchlight.

The collectors managed to catch three of the loaches, but unfortunately one died on the way out of the cave and had to be preserved in some "strong local spirit". The other two jumped out of their quarantine aquarium when exported to Belgium.

Of the 11 species of cavernicole (cave-dwelling) fish, seven are balitorids, but the majority of the other family members are hypogean, and live above ground.

For more details see: Kottelat, M. (2004) - Schistura spekui, a new species of cave fishes from northern Vietnam (Teleostei: Balitoridae). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters. Vol. 15. No.2 pp. 187-191.