Blind Cave Dweller Offers Insight Into Water Quality

Geologist studies Shenandoah Valley's Madison Cave isopod

Found only on 12 sites through the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia, a free-swimming crustacean loves life both underground and underwater.

Scientists are still trying to figure out if there are more of the unique the Madison Cave isopods. They are rare, blind, pigmentless cave dwellers that seem to be the sentinel species for water quality, the Chesapeake Bay Journal reported.

The isopod has a special marine ancestry that tells a lot about the natural history of the valley, said Wil Orndorff, a geologist with the Virginia Department of Conservation.

Millions of years ago, Orndorff said, the valley had one giant aquifer that separated into different blocks when rivers cut out their beds.  By studying the location of the isopods scientists can learn how these aquifers are connected.  So far, data suggest that there are three populations and that not all the aquifers are connected.

Blind, a half inch long and with fourteen legs the Madison Cave isopod propels itself through water by its tail.  When lucky, it gets to feed on small insects and animals that fall into the water.  Something the size of a small shrimp can be eaten in about two hours, Orndorff said. He hopes that by studying these little creatures it will offer ways to protect the thing we need most: clean water.

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