A team of international astronauts spent six days in a pitch-black Sa Grutta cave system underneath Sardinia, Italy. When they emerged from the cave, they had a newly discovered species of a blind, colorless crustaceans with them.
The cave-dwelling crustacean is the size of a fingernail (just 8 millimeters long) and is named Alpioniscus sideralis which is the Latin word for “stellar”. The astronauts found it running around in a pitch-black pool inside of the Italian cave.
The expedition was conducted in 2012 with astronaut trainees from the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, China, and Japan. When they noticed the tiny crustaceans in the small pond, they lured them out of the water by using liver and rotten cheese as bait.
The astronauts were training underground as part of the European Space Agency’s CAVES program. This training helps International Space Station candidates to perform research together while in dangerous subterranean environments.
Paolo Marcia, who is a zoologist from the University of Sassari, explained the expedition in a statement, “I would like to think that when humans land on Mars and explore its caves, this experience will help them to look for other species, knowing that life has few limits and can develop in the most inhospitable places.”
After studying the genetics of the Alpioniscus sideralis by using molecular analysis, it was confirmed that it doesn’t match up with the other species found around that region. The astronauts described their findings in a December 2018 study that was published in the journal ZooKeys which can be read here.
The Alpioniscus sideralis is a type of woodlice, which are very small crustaceans that left their watery habitat millions of years ago in order to colonize on land. However, with this new discovery, it appears as if the species went back to its original roots and is back living in the water – this time in a subterranean cave pool located in Sardinia.
You can see a picture of the Alpioniscus sideralis by clicking here.
It’s incredible to think that astronauts on a training exercise in a pitch-black cave ended up discovering a new species of crustaceans. Maybe they’ll find some unknown living creatures when they’re finally able to explore Mars.