Scientists have discovered a brand new species of crustacean. The new freshwater crustacean is almost transparent and smaller than a standard paperclip. Dr Hossein Rajaei of the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History said the finding of this miniature marvel was “sensational.”
Rajaei discovered the new species during an expedition to the Lut desert (Dasht-e Lut) in Iran. The new species were discovered living in a temporary lake in a desert where NASA satellites once recorded a surface temperature of 70.7 degrees Celsius making it the hottest temperatures on the planet. After spring rainfall, shallow pools of water are formed in parts of the desert by seasonal floods. There are no bodies of water that are there year-round as annual precipitation in the region never exceeds more than 30 mm per year.
Rajaei, and Dr Alexander V. Rudov from Tehran University, acquired the samples from the seasonal lake in the southern part of the desert and discovered the tiny creature there. In honour of Iranian herpetologist and conservation biologist Hadi Fahimi, who took part in the expedition to Lut in 2017, the two scientists named the new species Phallocryptus fahimii. Hadi died in an airplane crash in 2018.
A crustacea specialist from the Natural History Museum of Vienna, Co-author Dr Martin Schwentner, clarified that these Crustaceans could survive in that environment. He stated that they can survive for decades in the dried-out sediment and will hatch in an upcoming wet season when the aquatic habitat refills. Martin added that they are perfectly adapted to live in desert environments, and their capability to live in the Lut desert shows their resilience. At around 51,800 km squared, the Lut desert is the second largest desert in Iran.
The study revealed that what sets it apart from surrounding arid regions is its “extreme weather conditions”. The desert was called the “Thermal pole of the Earth” after NASA measured record-breaking temperatures on the surface in 2006. In recent times, that temperature has increased, after satellite temperature measurements clocked in at 80.8 degrees Celsius on the surface. The press release indicated that dark pebbles that heat up are one of the causes of these record temperatures. While not as scorching as the ground itself, the air temperature in the region is also up, hitting about 50 degrees Celsius in the summer.
Within the genus Phallocryptus, Phallocryptus fahimii is now the fifth recognized species. Scientists noted that this was a new discovery because morphological and genetic differences set it apart from other species in that genus. Even as the male specimen is around 2.25 cm, the larger female of the new species is around three centimetres long. It appears almost like a ghost because it lack pigmentation. These tiny crustaceans are still rare to find, even as the desert has more biodiversity than many would imagine.