An aquatic crustacean that lives permanently in underground water systems, the southern cave crayfish (Orconectes australis) has a number of bizarre features that enable it to inhabit this highly unique subterranean habitat (2). The southern cave crayfish lacks functioning eyes and instead possesses enhanced tactile (touch) and olfaction (smell) senses, suited to a life in the dark (2). In addition, like many cave-dwelling species, the southern cave crayfish’s body is colourless and almost translucent (2).
Like all crayfish, this species has two pairs of antennae and five pairs of legs. The front pair is enlarged and bears large pincers (3). The female southern cave crayfish is slightly larger than the male (6).
The southern cave crayfish is one of the largest animals of its underground aquatic habitat (4), and its scientific name suitably reflects this, as ‘Orco’ is Latin for ‘god of the underworld’ and ‘nectes’ means ‘swimmer’ (5).
It is only recently that the southern cave crayfish has been elevated to the species level, based on genetic and geographic evidence (4). Prior to this, the southern cave crayfish was classed as one of two subspecies of Orconectes australis, O. australis australis, the other being O. a. packardi (7).
- Carapace length: 48 mm (2)