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New crustacean identified in the world's hottest desert

A previously undescribed type of freshwater crustacean has been found in the Lut Desert, one of the hottest places on the planet. The crustacean belongs to the genus Phallocryptus, of which only four species are known to have originated in arid regions.

The discovery was made by Dr. Hossein Rajaei of the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History and Dr. Alexander V Rudov of Tehran University during a research mission focused on studying the ecology and biodiversity of the Lut Desert.

Upon analyzing the samples collected from the desert, study co-author Dr. Martin Schwentner of the Natural History Museum of Vienna determined that the animals belong to a new species of freshwater Crustacea.

The experts named the new species Phallocryptus fahimii, in honor of Iranian conservation biologist Hadi Fahimi, who took part in the 2017 expedition and perished in a tragic airplane crash the following year.

Dr. Rajaei noticed the unique crustaceans in a small seasonal lake in the southern part of the desert. “During an expedition to such an extreme place you are always on alert, in particular when finding water. Discovering crustaceans in this otherwise hot and dry environment was really sensational.”

In a paper published by the Taylor & Francis Group, the experts describe how Phallocryptus fahimii is different from all other known Phallocryptus species in its overall morphology and genetics.

“These Crustaceans are able to survive for decades in the dried-out sediment and will hatch in an upcoming wet season, when the aquatic habitat refills,” said Dr. Schwentner. “They are perfectly adapted to live in deserts environments. Their ability to survive even in the Lut desert highlights their resilience.”

The Lut Desert, also known as Dasht-e Lut, is the second largest desert in Iran and holds the current record for the highest ever-recorded surface temperature. Based on satellite measurements, NASA reported a record surface temperature of 70.7 degrees Celsius, or 159.3 degrees Fahrenheit, in 2005.

The study is published in the journal Zoology in the Middle East.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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