Astronauts bring back new life
26 November 2012
This crustacean from the Alpioniscus species was discovered during ESA's CAVES 2012 training programme. Just under 8 mm long, these animals belong to the suborder of terrestrial isopods, commonly known as woodlice.
Most crustaceans such as crabs, shrimps and lobsters live in water while woodlice are the only group that have fully adapted to life on land.
The ancestors of the terrestrial isopods seem to have evolved from aquatic life to live on land. Surprisingly, the astronauts found a species that has returned to living in water, completing an evolutionary full circle.
Credits: ESA–M. Fincke
CAVES 2012 science coordinator Jo de Waele (left) and NASA astronaut Mike Fincke placing bait during the underground training.
A mixture of liver and rotten cheese was used to entice subterranean life to visit the area. After three to four days the astronauts returned to the site to collect animals of interest.
Molecular analysis confirms some of the life found belong to a new species of crustaceans of the Alpioniscus genus.
Credits: ESA–V. Crobu