For the first time, an extremely rare blind catfish species called Mexican blindcat thought to only exist in Mexico, has been found in a limestone cave in Amistad National Recreation Area near Del Rio, Texas. Scientifically named Prietella phreatophila, the catfish is a slow pinkish-white fish that grows no more than three inches.

A pair of the Mexican blindcat has been placed in the San Antonio Zoo. According to the University of Texas curator of ichthyology Dean Hendrickson, the Mexican blindcat lost many of the traits commonly found in surface animals, like color for camouflage, speed and eyesight, because it did not need any of these senses to live in dark caves.

The  fish was first seen in Texas by National Park Service resource manager Jack Johnson in April 2015. The species was believed to be endemic in the springs and wells in Coahuila, Mexico. This implies that the water-filled caves below Rio Grande basin in Texas and Coahuila connect the two.

blind catfish

These Mexican blindcats were discovered in an underwater cave in Texas. Credit: Danté Fenolio

Although the Mexican blindcat was discovered in 1954, it was eventually grouped in the Mexican government’s endangered species list. The Fish and Wildlife Service in the US followed suit and included the species in its foreign endangered species list.

Until now, the Mexican blindcat’s habitat is still threatened by contamination and over-pumping of groundwater for human consumption. It may not seem like it but the species’ status and health tell the status of the water resources that many people rely on so helping this endangered fish is of utmost importance.

The discovered pair will not be shown to the public yet. Although many may argue that the researchers should have left the fish alone, the facility at the San Antonio Zoo’s Department of Conservation and Research is equipped to protect and take care of the pair.

“The San Antonio Zoo has a series of labs specially designed to keep subterranean wildlife safe and healthy,” adds Danté Fenolio, San Antonio Zoo’s vice president of conservation and research. “The fact that the zoo can participate now and house these very special blind catfish demonstrates the zoo’s commitment to the conservation of creatures that live in groundwater.”