Pennsylvanian Heller Cave Springtail One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protection

Catherine Township, PA /November 13 — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will protect the Heller Cave springtail (Typhlogastrura helleri), a tiny creature native only to a central Pennsylvania cave system which has recently been threatened by a proposed limestone quarry. The decision is a response to the petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Juniata Valley Audubon Society which sought the springtail’s protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in October 2011.

A common springtail

A common springtail © Wikipedia / Mvuijlst

“The Heller Cave springtail will disappear forever if its only home on the planet is destroyed,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate for the Center. “Today’s decision is a hopeful sign that this little biological marvel will remain a part of Pennsylvania’s natural heritage into the future.”

The Heller Cave springtail, which was discovered in 2006, has no special status under Pennsylvania law and was not included in the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s requirements for protection of state-listed species at the quarry site.

The Heller Cave springtail is a small-sized cave-dwelling springtail, able to jump distances many times its body length. It is highly dependent on the cave microclimate (stable temperatures and high humidity) and it most probably would not survive if exposed to outside surface conditions. Moreover, this springtail is the only springtail of its type found this far north and east in North America.

The species is highly threatened by the quarry site adjacent to the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, on the boundary between Blair and Huntingdon counties, opened by Gulf Trading and Transport in 2010. In addition, this quarry site may be a possible cause for the massive decline of the eastern small-footed bat which hibernates in the Heller Cave complex and which is suffering from the rapid spread of the white-nose syndrome bat disease.

Earlier this year the Center and Juniata Valley Audubon Society succeeded in halting the quarry through a settlement agreement with Gulf Trading and Transport and the Department of Environmental Protection. However, the settlement does not guarantee permanent protection for the Heller Caves or the imperiled species that live there.

“Even tiny life forms like the Heller Cave springtail deserve a place to live,” said Matteson. “And our descendants deserve a world as rich in biological diversity as the one we inherited. Creatures large and small are all a part of that.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service will now conduct an in-depth status review of the springtail and decide whether the species warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Source: CBD