Shrimp, Kentucky Cave
Shrimp, Kentucky cave
status: Endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA
range: USA (Kentucky)
Description and biology
The Kentucky cave shrimp is a small freshwater shrimp that grows only to a maximum length of 1.2 inches (3 centimeters). It lacks pigmentation (coloring) and is almost transparent. Because it lives in dark underground streams, it is blind. This shrimp feeds on organic matter such as decaying plants, bat feces, algae, fungi, and insect remains.
Biologists (people who study living organisms) have very little information regarding the reproductive habits of this species.
Habitat and current distribution
The Kentucky cave shrimp is found in the Mammoth Cave National Park region in south-central Kentucky. In this area, it inhabits freshwater streams and pools located deep in caves. In the early 1980s, biologists estimated the shrimp's
total population to be about 500. Since then, small populations have been discovered at additional sites in the area. Currently, Kentucky cave shrimp populations are found at five locations in the Mammoth Cave system.
History and conservation measures
Pollution is the main threat to the Kentucky cave shrimp. The food supply on which it depends is washed into the caves by a complex system of sinkholes and streams. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are used on the surface near the caves. These chemicals run off into the waterways supplying the caves. Once this water becomes contaminated, so does the shrimp's food and habitat. So far, biologists do not believe outside chemicals have polluted the water inside the caves, but the amount of silt (mineral particles) contained in that water has recently increased.
The small number of Kentucky cave shrimp in existence makes the species vulnerable. If a clean water supply to the caves is not maintained, the shrimp could face extinction.