Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

October 16, 2012

Save the Troglobites

By Dick Platt
Corsicana Daily Sun

— Did you read about the teeny-tiny spider that caused a $15.1 million highway underpass project to be scrapped? That’s right — I said the Texas Department of Transportation’s construction of an underpass on Texas 151 at Loop 1604 in Northwest San Antonio, underway since April, has been suspended indefinitely and the contractor released.

It sounds like it was a good plan because running Texas 151 under Loop 1604 would have eliminated traffic lights for about 80,000 vehicles passing through this intersection daily. The new underpass was to be operational by next summer. It seems that, while working on the highway’s medium, a karst cave about 6-feet deep was unearthed and a rare blind spider, about the size of a dime was discovered. This species is technically named Cicurina venii, but we all know it by its common name, the Braken Bat Cave meshweaver. Yeah, right.

To say that these little buggers are rare is a gross understatement. It’s kind of like saying Jack the Ripper had a bit of a mean streak in him. Some hydrogeologist named George Veni first identified this little sucker in Bexar County, about five miles from this construction site, way back in 1980 — hence the genus name of “Cicurina Venii.” Now here’s the real kicker — the cave where Veni found the troublesome arachnid has since been covered up by a residential development and the revered Braken Bat Cave meshweaver has not been seen since — that is until a biologist found our tiny friend hanging out in that hole thirty years later.

It seems that consulting biologists have been observing the construction process from its inception because this area is known for an abundance of natural resources such as songbirds and rare cave creatures. These biologist have identified 19 cave features which look like holes around this project. Well, duh! They are digging in an area peppered with limestone caves and underground erosion and they found some holes. They have found some spiders in five of these holes but no more of the Braken Bat Cave meshweaver variety.

Guess what the first things the biologists, hydrogeologists, taxonomists, zoologists, and various other interested hangers-on did after the discovery? They put our little friend in a bottle, covered the hole back up, took the bottle back to the lab, and promptly dissected the spider. That’s right, they performed an autopsy on the poor little guy so they could be sure it was really a B.B.C. meshweaver spider. All these “...gists” wait 30 years between sightings and, when they do find one, they dice it up. Ain’t science wonderful?

The law says that collecting and killing an endangered species is allowed for the purpose of identification if done by someone with a federal permit. I’m not sure, but I think this same law applied to SEAL Team 6 when they hauled the body of the late-great Osama bin Laden back to Afghanistan for identification.

Since Bexar County is pockmarked with these karst cave subterranean formations, it is considered a possible habitat for the B.B.C. meshweaver and eight other “karst invertebrates” which are all on the federal endangered species list. By the way, lest I forget, let me tell you what the troglobite species are. They are cave-dwelling spiders, insects, and fish that live permanently underground and cannot survive outside the cave environment. Most of them have no pigmentation or eyesight but they have heightened senses of hearing, touch, and smell.

It’s no surprise that TxDOT is now being pressured to conduct “intensive biological research” in all the area’s caves to see if any of these endangered species might be residing there. A spokesperson has said this pressure puts TxDOT and the Fish and Wildlife Service between a rock and a hard place. I don’t know about all that, but I’ll bet those endangered “karst invertebrates” will be hanging out between a rock and a hard place. (Get it?)

How about this for a possible scenario? Ten years from now, when they finally start to build that Highway 31 Loop around Corsicana, they plow into an old oil field that is now the subterranean home of the very, very rare ring-necked, one-eyed, three-stingered scorpian. The whole project would have to be scrapped and those semi-trailers would be stuck forever behind folks making left turns on Seventh Avenue.  

All this talk about saving the bugs and critters makes me feel bad about paying “Erick the Bug Man” to spray around our humble abode every month. Well...that’s not quite true. While I am a “live and let live” kind of guy, I do not wish to commune with spiders, mosquitoes, gnats, June bugs, and the like.

So, a farmer is sitting on a stool, milking his cow when he notices a big old barn fly buzzing around Bossie and making her nervous. He sees the fly zip into Bossie’s ear and then doesn’t see it again until he looks down and sees the darned fly floating in his bucket of milk. It was a case of in one ear and out the udder!

See ya...

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Dick Platt is a Daily Sun columnist. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com