The Stygobromus allegheniensis is full of mysteries. Found in caves throughout the northeastern United States, the tiny shrimp has no eyes but is still able to detect light. It’s rarely found in extremely cold locales, and yet it has evolved with the ability to survive being frozen in a solid block of ice.
New Scientist reports that S. allegheniensis are usually found in limestone caves, which maintain a relatively stable temperature throughout the year. As such, cave biologist Luis Espinasa was surprised when he stumbled upon the tiny shrimp in the ice caves of Shawangunk Ridge in the mid-Hudson Valley region of New York during a hiking trip years ago. Intrigued by the strange crustacean, Espinasa wondered how it could survive in the freezing caves, whose walls and floors are often covered in solid ice during the winter.
“Cave dwellers are typically not adapted to freezing,” Espinasa told New Scientist. And yet, the shrimp seemed to thrive in the Shawangunk caves.
Espinasa began studying the creatures, testing their reactions to freezing temperatures. He found they could survive being frozen in solid ice, both at the caves and in the lab, for several hours (his research was published in the journal Subterranean Biology). He hypothesizes that the shrimp can likely survive in ice for much longer durations when their bodies are given time to acclimate, as in natural conditions. Espinasa believes the shrimp may be able to more effectively prepare themselves by filling their bodies with the chemicals needed to keep their cells from turning to ice.
More research is needed to determine exactly how the shrimp manage to survive, but it's clear they’re impressively tough little creatures. Check out the video above to see S. allegheniensis get frozen in a block of ice, and emerge unscathed, like a tiny crustacean David Blaine.
[h/t New Scientist]
Banner image credit: Jordi Espinasa, YouTube