Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 21, 2023

Contact:

Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017, michaelr@biologicaldiversity.org

Two Texas Catfish Proposed for Endangered Species Protections

SAN ANTONIO— Responding to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect two aquifer-dwelling catfish in Texas as endangered species. The agency has been aware since 1982 that the toothless blindcat and the widemouth blindcat were being killed when they were pumped up from deep wells in the Edwards Aquifer and were headed toward extinction.

The toothless blindcat is thought to live on bacteria in the groundwater. The widemouth blindcat is a carnivore that hunts the toothless blindcat. They navigate the dark waters with their whiskers.

“The fascinating drama of predator and prey in the depths beneath our feet has been unraveling for decades while the federal agency responsible for protecting them has had its head in the sand,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Even critters that we never see deserve not to be driven extinct. It shouldn’t take the Fish and Wildlife Service four decades to protect declining animal and plant species.”

No human has seen these creatures alive, but thousands are believed to have been pumped from wells, which killed them. Scientists have examined some of them and drawn conclusions from their morphologies and from what they had eaten.

The widemouth blindcat, as the top-level carnivore in the Edwards Aquifer, is thought to be naturally less abundant than its prey, the toothless blindcat. The widemouth is accordingly more vulnerable. The last one documented was pumped out in 1984 and it is likely that so few remain that they rarely encounter each other to enable mating.

Toothless blindcats have been documented as recently as 2022 but are estimated to remain in low numbers. Both catfish species are thought to naturally live for decades and to reproduce slowly. Mortality from wells is the reason for their imperilment.

“These denizens of the deep are a reminder that living organisms have evolved to take advantage of every conceivable niche on and in the Earth,” said Robinson. “Our nation’s respect for ecological integrity and the moral importance of conservation were written into the Endangered Species Act five decades ago. But the Fish and Wildlife Service’s chronic delay in following the law risks the extinction of the toothless and widemouth blindcats and hundreds of other irreplaceable species.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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