New endangered marine species discovered in Cozumel

Opiuroidea (Image: UNAM)

The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), through its campus in Yucatan, announced the discovery of a new marine species on the island of Cozumel, Quintana Roo.

The authors of this finding and subsequent research, which was already published in “Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution“, according to UNAM, are Guadalupe Bribiesca-Contreras, Tania Pineda-Enríquez, Francisco Márquez-Borrás, Francisco Alonso Solís -Marín, Heroen Verbruggen, Andrew F. Hugall and Timothy O’Hara.

It is the third cave opiuroid in the world, it belongs to the taxonomic group of echinoderms and is in danger of extinction.

Ophionereis commutabilis” is the scientific name of this newly discovered cave ophuroid species, which was found in the El Aerolito cave, in Cozumel Quintana Roo,”  said Francisco Solís Marín, a researcher at UNAM’s Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology.

Ophuroids are a group of marine animals with distinctive features on their skin. Its same name in Greek defines them, because it is an echinoderm: ekhino: quill, and derma: skin.

Starfish, urchin, sea lilies and sea cucumbers belong to the same group.

It is the first time that the existence of this new species is recorded and Francisco Solís Marín is one of the authors of this discovery, considered a product of evolution.

The UNAM publication notes that of the more than two thousand species of ophthalide that were documented since 2010, only two live in caves (one in the United States and the other in Japan). And now, in the year 2019, a third one has just been added to the list, and “it’s Mexican”.

Paradoxically, this species is in danger of extinction. The threat comes from human (anthropogenic) activities, specifically from ocean pollution.

This opiuroidea belongs to the taxonomic group of echinoderms; In other words, the ofiuros are sister groups of starfish, but they are not of the same genus. They have similar traits, but morphologically they are different.

One of the main conclusions of Solís Marín’s work is that the elongation (extension) of the arms, the flattening of the body and the coloring patterns are the product of adaptation of living inside a cave, where the environmental conditions are extreme: very little oxygen, almost no light and scarce food availability.



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