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Ha Long bay. Credit: Tony Whitten/FFI

Subterranean, blind water mite discovered in Vietnamese cave

Posted on: 10.10.13 (Last edited) 15 May 2014

A remarkable new Nilotonia species has been discovered by scientists in a cave in Cat Ba island in Halong Bay, Vietnam

A water mite with a complete absence of eyes and measuring only 1mm in length has been discovered during an expedition by scientists in a cave on Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay, Vietnam.

The subterranean fauna of southern and southeastern Asia is known to be poorly documented, with accurate information on groundwater fauna in Vietnamese karst landscapes (defined by its composition of soluble bedrock, usually limestone or marble) particularly scarce.

Halong Bay, Vietnam. Credit: Rachel Austin/FFI

Halong Bay, Vietnam. Credit: Rachel Austin/FFI

In an attempt to begin remedying this gap in knowledge, Fauna & Flora International invited Dr Boris Sket and his colleague Dr Peter Trontelj, a speleobiologist (a subterranean and cave fauna biologist), to lead an expedition to study the subterranean fauna of the karst landscapes of northern Vietnam.

Dr Sket explains, “I was incredibly eager to visit Halong Bay, and had wished to do so for many years. Anchihaline (coastal) fauna is one of my favourite research subjects and the landscape here is marvelous. I knew there must be anchihaline caves in the region, waiting to be explored.”

Dr Sket was right. “There is a complex and diverse aquatic community of micro invertebrates inhabiting small fissures and cracks in the gaps between the fossil caves and the surface. These small systems of fissures have traditionally been neglected as the main habitat for water mites, but this is where we found many new species.”

Whilst no photographs currently exist of the Nilotonia Sketi, the above is an example of a similar mite species from Ha Long. Credit: Dr Boris Sket

Whilst no photographs currently exist of the Nilotonia Sketi, the above is an example of a similar mite species from Ha Long. Credit: Dr Boris Sket

As well as the blind water mite, named Nilotonia Sketi after Dr Sket, the biologists found several new troglobiotic (specialised subterranean) animals, while investigating a number of caves throughout the archipelago, most of which were also previously unknown to science.

Dr Sket continues, “Amongst the discoveries were a small troglobiotic fish Draconectes narinosus (new genus, new species) in a small island, where freshwater fish are not expected to be found, as well as a tiny amphipod crustacean Seborgia vietnamica (new species) which we think is most probably the only food resource of the new fish.”

Due to the need for complete scientific accuracy, new species description is a time consuming task, with this one in particular taking close to ten years to be completed.

Written by
Ally Catterick

Ally worked in media management and PR for clients including comedians Eddie Izzard and Ed Byrne before becoming Publicity Manager for the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Strategy and communications for conservation organisation Greening Australia and her role as Unit and Company Publicist for production company Roving Enterprises followed, until she was introduced to FFI upon their arrival in Australia in 2008. Ally became a founding board member – until moving to the UK to become the organisation's Communications Manager. Ally is now FFI's Deputy Director of Communications and oversees all communications for FFI globally.

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