New loach found in Indian cave system

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Scientists have found a new species of loach in a cave system in Meghalaya State, India.

Maurice Kottelat, of the National University of Singapore, and two British scientists, Daniel Harries of Heriot-Watt University and Graham Proudlove of the University of Manchester, discovered the new fish species in the Synrang Pamiang system.

The balitorid loach is a member of the Nemacheilinae and has been named Schistura papulifera - a name chosen due to the presence of small skin projections on the lower half of the head.

Like most other cave-dwelling fishes, Schistura papulifera has a white body - it has no need for camouflage - and has vestigial eyes.

Although a number of other true cave-dwelling loaches have been described, the new species is the first to be recorded from India.

The authors wrote: "Schistura sijuensis (Menon) is known from Siju Cave in the Garo Hills, but morphologically it is virtually indistinguishable from epigean populations.

"This apparent absence of cave loaches is possibly only an artifact resulting from a lack of biospeleological survey work. India currently has four known stygobitic (subterranean-limited) fish species, including two clariid catfishes (Horaglanis krishnai Menon and H. alikunhii Babu and Nayar), and two synbranchid eels (Monopterus eapeni Talwar and M. roseni Bailey and Gans).

"The area of known karatic limestone in India is limited, and these four species are found in shallow phreatic ground water. We describe here the first strictly hypogean loach from India."

The Synrang Pamiang is India's deepest cave.

For more information see the paper: Kottelat M, Harries DR and GS Proudlove (2007) - Schistura papulifera, a new species of cave loach from Meghalaya, India (Teleostei: Balitoridae). Zootaxa 1393: 35-44 (2007).