In the pitch black world of lava tubes, scientists find a world of unique creatures

In the pitch black world of lava tubes, scientists find a world of unique creatures

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A group of scientists and researchers exploring lava caves on the Big Island have discovered unique creatures living in lava tubes.

University of Hawaii associate professor of biology Megan Porter believes a handful of the species have never been seen before.

"We have a new species of beetle. We think the thread legged bug, the thing that looks like a praying mantis, we're pretty sure that's a new species. We think we have several new species of plant hoppers," she said.

Nature Conservancy cave biologist Mike Slay said the animals have adapted to the dark. They have no eyes and no pigment.

(Image: University of Hawaii)
(Image: University of Hawaii)

“They’re really unique,” he said. “They’re specific to these cave environments. They’re specific native species to Hawaii. So they’re an important aspect of the native community that we have here.”

The researchers made the discoveries in lava tubes on the south side of the Big Island.

"We find spiders, beetles, plant hoppers, a whole range of different animals," Porter said.

The insects are found around roots that slip through the lava looking for water.

"You have the propensity to find more associated with those roots," Slay said.

Porter said the team's work has just scratched the surface of finding new species.

"There are bunches of others that I think when we start to look at genetics we're going to find that they're new species as well," she said.

The team members are mulling over what to name the animals.

Learn more about their work in the PBS documentary, “Living Volcanoes.”

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