Southern Cavefish

Typhlichthys subterraneus

southern_cave_fish.jpg

Image of a southern cave fish
The southern cavefish (pictured) looks almost exactly like the Ozark cavefish.
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Amblyopsidae (cavefishes) in the order Percopsiformes (trout-perch and allies)

Description

Long, flattened head without eyes (the only other Missouri fish that lacks eyes is the Ozark cavefish). Unpigmented, resulting in a whitish pink appearance due to blood vessels under the skin. Pelvic fins absent; tail fin is rounded. Scales are extremely small, giving the body the appearance of being scaleless. Anus located far forward on body, under throat in adults.

Two other cavefish species are found in Missouri. The spring cavefish is known from only one site near Cape Girardeau; it is pigmented yellowish brown to brown, and it has small eyes. The Ozark cavefish lives in southwest Missouri. It is hard to distinguish the Ozark cavefish from the southern cavefish, but their ranges do not overlap.

Size

Total length: 1½ to 2½ inches; maximum size to about 3½ inches.

Habitat and conservation

Only found in cave streams, wells, and spring outlets. Not believed to have any daily peak activity.

Foods

Microcrustaceans, crayfish, and aquatic insect larvae. Cavefish have a low metabolic rate, which allows them to go without food for an extended period of time.

image of Southern Cavefish distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Inhabits underground waters of central and southern Ozarks.

Status

A Species of Conservation Concern in Missouri. Threats include illegal collection for aquariums, groundwater pollution, groundwater removal, and habitat flooding by reservoir construction.

Life cycle

Lifespan is unknown, believed to be longer than 10 years. It is believed that these cavefish spawn when water is high in February through April and that females carry the eggs in the gill chamber for 4 to 5 months until hatching. Up to 50 eggs can spawn from one female.

Human connections

Human wealth takes many forms, in addition to the common sense of “money.” That Missouri — the Cave State — is blessed with such interesting subterranean features and an abundance of fascinating, rare and elegant creatures, makes us rich beyond description.

Ecosystem connections

Our three species of cavefishes live in specialized habitats. As some of the top underwater predators where they live, they occupy an important position.