Portugal’s “cave woman” discovers two “new species”

She is already very well known for her discovery of 11 species of “subterranean fauna” – almost always eyeless, legless, pigment-less bugs. And now 35-year-old Portuguese biologist Ana Sofa Reboleira is in the news again for having discovered two new types of fungi that live inside cave-dwelling animals. As the ‘animals’ are minute, it comes as no surprise to hear the fungi “are less than a millimetre” in length.

In fact, they are much smaller than their newly-given names: Diplopodomyces lusitanipdos and Diplopodomyces veneris.

Reboleira and her team discovered the fungi in caverns in central Portugal.

“Mad about caving” since she was six, Reboleira told us about the thrill of discovery that keeps her going as she wades, often knee deep, in icy waters underground.

It “sheds new insights into the way we look at life on Earth,” she told us. “In the total absence of light and with extremely low food resources, cave dwelling animals have evolved unique ways of adapting to their environments.”

A delightfully-smiley scientist, Ana Reboleira shot to fame in her field when she was accredited with having found “the deepest living animal on the planet” on an expedition to the world’s deepest cave in the Western Caucasus.

Since then she has found many more creepy-crawlies, including the “largest subterranean insect in Europe” (Squamatinia algharbica) in four caves in the Algarve.

Working out of Aveiro University, Ana Sofia tells us she is “full of plans” for the future as there is still “a lot” out there, under our feet, waiting to be “discovered”.

Ironically, “because of the way the world is changing, with pollution and the effects of agriculture”, she says many of the animals she finds “for the first time” are instantly deemed in danger of extinction.

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