The Venezuelan Cave Cricket – Hydrolutos breweri

Head of a male Hydrolutos breweri. Image: C Brewer-Carias

This month’s curiosity is Hydrolutos breweri, a newly discovered flightless Venezuelan cricket which lives its entire life in perpetual darkness in the freshwater pools and streams flowing through caves atop high mountain plateaus.  As you can see in the video below, Hydrolutos is unlike any entry into the Cabinet so far!

Hydrolutos breweri is a member of a fascinating family of giant crickets from the Southern Hemisphere, the Anostostomatidae, which includes the Australian king cricket – which has been seen to overpower and eat large funnel-web spiders!

The new species was discovered in a gigantic quartzite cave – Cueva Charles Brewer (named after the Venezuelan explorer who “discovered” it, and famous for (amongst other things): “the discovery of the world’s largest quartzite cave and 27 plants, reptiles, insects and a scorpion named in his honour; a raft of diseases including malaria and leishmaniasis in his system; and a record for starting fire with sticks (2.7 seconds)”) – on a mountain plateau in eastern, Venezuela.

Known locally as “tepuis”, such table mountains rise sharply and dramatically up sheer cliffs from the lowlands, isolating the plants and animals they support on plateaus high above lowland ecosystems.

A Venezualan tepui rises sharply from the lowland landscape. Image: wikipedia

This detachment from the wider ecosystem allows species on the high tepuis to evolve in isolation over time, producing an incredibly rich biodiversity, consisting of many plants and animals with curious, unusual characteristics contained in a small area, a phenomenon known as endemism.  This isolated evolution atop high South American mountains inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World in 1912, a novel suggesting that dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures still survived on such plateaus!

The incredible Cueva Charles Brewer. Image:

In 2010, an expedition was led by Charles Brewer-Carias and Branislav Smida to explore the gigantic quartzite Churi-tepui cave system in the Chimanta mountain range in eastern Venezuela.  The expedition discovered an incredible new insect, named Hydrolutos breweri after the explorer in a 2010 paper published by Tomas Derka and Peter Fedor.

Male Hydrolutos breweri. Image: Mr. Michal Poljak

The newly discovered cricket is found in the freshwater streams and pools that wind through the plateau cave system, where its strong legs and claws (see the picture above) allow it to grip, clamber and swim through a treacherous, slippery environment.  Incredibly, the cricket lives its entire life in perpetual darkness in the cave system.  However, the fact that Hydrolutos breweri doesn’t display any of the usual features of cave-dwelling insects (or “troglobionts”) such as tiny eyes or a whitening in body colour, means that this new discovery is likely to also be found in other streams and pools outside of the cave system.

Hydrolutos breweri in its natural environment. Image Tomas Lanczos

Another fascinating curiosity for the Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities – who knows what the continued exploration of this amazing cave system will yield?  New freshwater plants and animals are being discovered every year, even in areas thought to be well explored and known – if you haven’t seen WWF’s report on their most recent expeditions in Papau New Guinea (where they found, amongst other things a previously undiscovered 2.5 metre long river shark and a “vampire frog”!), it’s well worth reading.

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