Photo by Bob Taylor
The more rare cavefish is the Ozark cavefish, Amblyopsis rosae. This fish lives in the
limestone aquifer under the Springfield plateau, with its range extending into Arkansas and
Oklahoma. This fish is classed as federally threatened, an official status giving it legal protection.
A reasonable estimate is that fewer than a couple thousand of these fish have ever been seen by
humans in the 120 years since their discovery. The few sites where they exist do not harbor large
populations. Ozark cavefish are considered to be the second most cave adapted fish species in the
nation, top honors going to the extremely rare and strangely shaped Alabama cavefish.
Ozark Cavefish have a slightly flattened head, are translucent to pinkish white, and the
internal organs can often be seen. An average adult grows to 1.75 inches. They are believed to
spawn in the spring, and be mouth incubators, but the only thing rarer to see than adult cavefish
are baby cavefish, as they are nearly transparent. Ozark cavefish are thought to be naturally long
lived, 10 to 15 years, but they also have a high mortality rate. Cavefish sense their food by
vibration, using lateral lines, and special papillae around the head. They will eat nearly any animal
matter they can find, including, occasionally their own young. Though they cannot see, some
specimens have shown a sensitivity to light. Just what mechanism comes into play here, is yet
Sightings of Ozark cavefish have been declining for many years, and sites which once reliably
contained cavefish have declined, or show no cavefish. Increasing urbanization in the Ozarks, and
declining water quality are thought to be the culprits. Since many communities on the Springfield
plateau get their water supply from groundwater, the decrease in cavefish may have implications
for the human populations there. Recent efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state
agencies in the Tri-State area, and others have resulted in the Ozark cavefish gaining a much
higher profile in the public eye than ever before. When the USF&W National Fish Hatchery at
Neosho, a site doing research on Ozark cavefish with an eye to save it, did some renovation to
their groundwater supply, they discovered cavefish in the water. A cavefish viewing station is now
in their visitor's center.
Some Ozark cavefish sites have been protected because the Ozark cavefish is often found in
gray bat caves. Presumably, the amounts of guano generated by these colonial bats provided an
important food source, either directly or indirectly, for the Ozark cavefish. As gray bats declined,
so did the cavefish. In the last few years, Gray bat populations are rebounding, but any effect on cavefish populations is still unknown.
For more information on Ozark Cavefish, or to report a sighting contact the Missouri
Department of Conservation, Endangered Species Biologist, P. O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO
65102. DO NOT DISTURB OR ATTEMPT TO TAKE THE FISH. To do so is against the law.
2003 Jo Schaper.