Typhlichthys subterraneus

Girard 1859

Typhlichthys subterraneus
Redrawn by Rhian Kendall from Woods and Inger (1957)


Typhlichthys osborni  Eigenmann 1905

Typhlichthys wyandotte  Eigenmann 1905

Typhlichthys eigenmanni  Hubbs 1938 (nomen nudum)




Description based on a syntype series of three individuals: USNM 8563. This species is the type species by monotypy of the cave restricted genus Typhlichthys.


Type locality: a well near Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA (37o00’N, 86o30’W), the exact location of the well is not known. The range is discontinuous, with a western component including central and southern Missouri, and northern Arkansas, and an eastern component which extends from the south‑central tip of Indiana, southwards through Kentucky, into central Tennessee, northern Alabama and the north west tip of Georgia (35-40oN, 85-95oW). The Mississippi River runs between these two areas and other major rivers divide the range. Although once thought to be resident in Oklahoma this species is in fact absent from this state. Mayden and Cross (1983) have shown that all records of T. subterraneus from Oklahoma are in fact of Troglichthys rosae. Records from Greene County, Missouri have been shown by Jones and Taber (1985) to be in error and therefore the indication in Woods and Inger (1957:245) that T. subterraneus and T. rosae are sympatric no longer holds. These two species do not overlap in distribution. In Mammoth cave, Kentucky, but nowhere else, this species coexists with A. spelaea and Woods and Inger (1957) have suggested that this is because of competitive exclusion. This range lies within an area bounded by the southernmost limit of glaciation and the northernmost limit of the Cretaceous Mississippi embayment. In Mammoth Cave, Kentucky this species coexists with Amblyopsis spelaea and in Key Cave, Alabama with Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni.

Niemiller et al. (2016) report a significant range extension for the species to Catoosa Co. Georgia.


Inhabits cool (10‑14oC) lentic waters over substata of mixed gravel, sand, and mud (Burr and Warren 1986:221). The preferred habitat of this species is in shallow streams fed by vertical shaft drains and with a moderate food supply (Poulson 1961, 1963 and pers. comm.). Schubert (1993), Schubert, Nielsen and Noltie (1993) and Schubert and Noltie (1995) made an experimental study of the substrate preference of this species. In all tests it significantly preferred cobbles to any other substrate. Cobbles have interstices large enough for the fishes to hide in and they spent much time there. Schubert and Noltie (1996) studied feeding. Compson (2004) used an isotopic study to show that T. subterraneaus, and probably also Amblyopsis spelaea, is a top predator within the cave ecosystem (see also Helf and Olson 2017). This species was known from Hidden River Cave but was extirpated from it, along with all other naturally occuring fauna, by intense pollution by sewage. After this problem was dealt with the natural fauna slowly recolonised the cave and T. subterraneus reappeared in 1993 and was still present in 2014 (Lewis et al. 1982, Lewis 1995, Jones and Pearson 1997, Lewis et al. 2015, Helf and Olson 2017 section 14.4.1, Table 14.3).


Until the revision of Woods and Inger (1957) there were three nominal species of Typhlichthys, a fourth nominal species was based on a nomen nudum and was therefore invalid (Poly and Proudlove 2004). The population from Sloans Valley Cave, Pulaski County, Kentucky differs in a number of ways from other populations and may represent an undescribed taxon (Cooper and Beiter 1972, Burr and Warren 1986:221). No further details of this population have been published. Genetically, however, the populations are very distinct, even those that are close geographically (Swofford, Branson, and Sievert 1980). This genetic information supports the hypothesis of Cooper and Iles (1971) that morphological similarity may be more a matter of similar selective regimes resulting in parallel evolution than any significant gene flow which is difficult to support because of the major river divides to the range. Barr and Holsinger (1985) support this idea and suggest that the “species” is a composed of several local phylogenetic species separated by extrinsic dispersal barriers (i.e. rivers and non‑karstic geology). Swofford, Branson and Sievert (1980) however suggest that morphological and genetic divergence have been uncoupled.  See below for more recent data.

Rosen (1962) has suggested that all Amblyopsid fishes be placed in a separate order, the Amblyopsiformes. This suggestion has not been followed by subsequent authors (e.g. Greenwood, Rosen, Weitzman and Myers 1966, Nelson, Grande and Wison 2016).

There are nine known and named taxa in the Family Amblyopsidae. Of these six are subterranean fishes with the usual troglomorphic characters of reduced eyes and pigment and permanent subterranean existence, and three are epigean fishes with normal eyes and pigment. Recent molecular and morphological evidence produced by Hart et al. (in press) demonstrates that the relationship between these hypogean and epigean fishes is not simple. There are four major clades within the Family:

1. Typhlichthys subterraneus and Typhlichthys eigenmanni are sister species and sister to this pair is Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni.  However, T. subterraneus is quite clearly divided into two subgroups, one of which is closer to T. eigenmanni than it is to the other group of T. subterraneus. The only way to read the cladogram for this group is that it consists of three taxa, one of which is currently un-named. This clade are all subterranean fishes.

2. Two of the epigean fishes, Forbesichthys papilliferus and Forbesichthys agassizii, are sister to each other and their sister is the hypogean species Amblyopsis spelaea.

The two remaining clades contain one species each but their relationships to the other six species is ambiguous:

3a. Sister to the above groups is epigean Chologaster cornuta with hypogean Troglichthys rosae sister to all other taxa.

3b. Sister to the above groups is hypogean Troglichthys rosae with epigean Chologaster cornuta sister to all other taxa.

Given the fact that the distribution of Chologaster cornuta is very far from the distributions of the other taxa 3b seems the most parsimonious explanation. Amblyopsis hoosieri is not included in the paper of Hart et al. (in press) but one would expect it to be in group 2 above based on geography.

This analysis does not take into account the ten possible cryptic taxa, currently subsumed within Typhlichthys subterraneus, identified by Graening, Fenolio and Slay (2011), Niemiller et al. (2013) and Hart, Burress and Armbruster (2016).

Conservation Status

MuG [NT:3.1:2014] NT:3.1:2013 (Niemiller et al. 2013)

(NatureServe. 2014. Typhlichthys subterraneus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: Downloaded on 10 July 2017).

Threatened (Branson 1981), Special concern (Burr and Warren 1986:221), VU D2 (IUCN 1996, 2000), G4 (NatureServe 2001).

Museum Holdings

KU 12853, SIUC 4129, 4130, 4131 (Mayden and Cross 1983); UMMZ 136379 (4 specimens) (Jones and Taber 1985); UAIC 656, AU 2067 (Cooper and Iles1971); UMMZ 133844 (formerly catalogued asTroglichthys rosae), ASUMZ 9064 (Paige, Tumlinson, and Mc Daniel 1981); also specimens at USNM, CAS‑SU, FMHM, MU, KU (Woods and Inger 1957); BMNH. Probably many other specimens in museums in the USA.


Key References

Girard, C. Journal Article 1859 Ichthyological notices
Cox, U. O. Journal Article 1905 A revision of the cave fishes of North America
Eigenmann, C. H. Book 1909 Cave vertebrates of America, a study in degenerative evolution
Verrier, M. L. Journal Article 1929 Observations sur le comportement d'un poisson cavernicole: Typhlichthys osbornii Eigenmann
Woods, L. P. and Inger, R. F. Journal Article 1957 The cave, spring and swamp fishes of the family Amblyopsidae of central and eastern United States
Poulson, T. L. Thesis 1961 Cave adaptation in Amblyopsid fishes
Clay, W.M. Book 1962 A field manual of Kentucky fishes
Rosen, D. E. Journal Article 1962 Comments on the relationships of the North American cave fishes of the family Amblyopsidae
Poulson, T. L. Journal Article 1963 Cave adaptation in Amblyopsid fishes
Cooper, J.E. Journal Article 1966 Preliminary observations on the biology of Shelta Cave, Alabama
Barr, T. C. Journal Article 1967 Ecological studies in the Mammoth Cave System of Kentucky. I.The biota
Cooper, J. E. Journal Article 1969 Biological studies in Shelta Cave, Alabama
Poulson, T. L. Journal Article 1969 Population size, density and regulation in cave fishes
Barr, T.C. and Kuehne, R.A. Journal Article 1971 Ecological studies in the Mammoth Cave System of Kentucky. II. The Ecosystem
Cooper, J. E. and Iles, A. Journal Article 1971 The Southern Cavefish, Typhlichthys subterraneus, at the southeastern periphery of its range
Cooper, J. E. Journal Article 1971 Interesting new locality records for the southern cavefish, Typhlichthys subterraneus Girard (Pisces, Amblyopsidae)
Cooper, J. E. and Cooper, M. R. Journal Article 1971 Studies on the aquatic ecology of Shelta Cave, Huntsville, Alabama
Cooper, J. E. and Beiter, D. P. Journal Article 1972 The Southern Cavefish, Typhlichthys subterraneus (Pisces, Amblyopsidae), in the eastern Mississippian Plateau of kentuck
Cooper, J.E. Journal Article 1974 New distributional and ecological data for Typhlichthys subterraneus (Pisces, Amblyopsidae) and subterranean Gyrinophilus (Amphibia, Plethodontidae)
Cooper, J.E. Thesis 1975 Ecological and behavioural studies in Shelta Cave, Alabama, with emphasis on decapod crustaceans
Clay, W.M. Book 1975 The fishes of Kentucky
Kalayil, P.K. and Clay, W.M. Journal Article 1976 Immumological characteristics and relationships of tissue antigens in Amblyopsid fishes
Swofford, D. L. Thesis 1976 Genetic variability, population differentiation and biochemical relationships in the family Amblyopsidae
Bechler, D. L. Journal Article 1976 Typhlichthys subterraneus Girard (Pisces, Amblyopsidae) in the Jackson Plain of Tennessee
McNulty, J. A. Journal Article 1978 Fine ultrastucture of the pineal organ of the troglodytic fish Typhlichyes subterraneous
Cooper, J.E. Book Section 1980 Typhlichthys subterraneus Girard Southern cavefish
Swofford, D. L., Branson, B. A. and Sievert, G. A. Journal Article 1980 Genetic differentiation of cavefish populations (Amblyopsidae)
Smith, V. J. Thesis 1980 Some aspects of the life history of the southern cavefish (Typhlichthys subterraneus Girard) in Missouri
Bechler, D. L. Thesis 1980 The evolution of agonistic behaviour in amblyopsid fishes
Bechler, D. L. Journal Article 1981 Agonistic behaviour in the Amblyopsidae; the cave, spring and swamp fishes
Vandike, J. E. Journal Article 1981 The effects of the November 1981 liquid fertiliser pipeline break on groundwater in Phelps County, Missouri
Paige, K. N., Tumlinson, C. R. and McDaniel, V. R. Journal Article 1981 A second record of Typhlichthys subterraneus (Pisces, Amblyopsidae) from Arkansas, USA
Bechler, D. L. Journal Article 1981 Behavioral studies on the Amblyopsidae; the cave, spring and swamp fish
Lewis, J.J., Lewis, T.M. and Eckstein, J. Book Section 1982 A biological reconnaissance of a poluted cave stream: the Hidden River grounwater basin
Bechler, D. L. Journal Article 1983 The evolution of agonistic behaviour in Amblyopsid fishes
Mayden, R. L. and Cross, F. B. Journal Article 1983 Reevaluation of the Oklahoma records of the southern cavefish, Typhlichthys subterraneus (Amblyopsidae)
Vandike, J. E. Book Section 1984 Hydrogeologic aspects of the November 1981 liquid fertiliser pipeline break on groundwater in the Meramec Spring recharge area, Phelps County, Missouri
Crunkilton, R. Book Section 1985 Subterranean contamination of Meramec Spring by ammonium nitrate and urea fertiliser and its implications for rare cave biota
Jones, S.R. and Taber, C.A. Journal Article 1985 A range revision for western populations of the southern cavefish Typhlichthys subterraneus (Amblyopsidae)
Poulson, T. L. Journal Article 1985 Evolutionary reduction by neutral mutations: Plausibility arguments and data from Amblyopsid fishes and Linyphiid spiders
Burr, B.M. and Warren, M.L. Journal Article 1986 A distributional atlas of Kentucky fishes
Palunas, M. J. Journal Article 1989 Life histories of the Amblyopsidae with an emphasis on reproductive cycles
Schubert, A. L. S., Nielsen, C. D. and Noltie, D. B. Journal Article 1993 Habitat use and gas bubble disease in southern cavefish (Typhlichthys subterraneus)
Lewis, J.J. Book Section 1995 The devastation and recovery of caves and karst affected by industrialisation
Schubert, A. L. S. and Noltie, D. B. Journal Article 1995 Laboratory studies of substrate and microhabitat selection in southern cavefish (Typhlichthys subterraneus Girard)
Bergstrom, D.E., Noltie, D.B. and Holtsford, T.P. Journal Article 1995 Ozark cavefish genetics: The phylogeny of Missouri's Ozark cavefish (Amblyopsis rosae) and southern cavefish (Typhlichthys subterraneus)
Schubert, A. L. S. and Noltie, D. B. Journal Article 1996 Effects if feeding regime on prey consumption and weight change rate in captive southern cavefish, Typhlichthys subterraneus Girard (Pisces: Percopsiformes: Amblyopsidae)
Bergstrom, D.E., Noltie, D.B. and Holtsford, T.P. Book Section 1997 Molecular phylogenetics and historical biogeography of the family Amblyopsidae
Green, S.M. and Romero, A. Journal Article 1997 Responses to light in two blind cave fishes (Amblyopsis spelaea and Typhlichthys subterraneus) (Pisces: Amblyopsidae)
Jones, T.G. and Pearson, W.D. Conference Paper 1997 The recovery of the aquatic biological community in Hidden River Cave, Horse Cave, Kentucky
Bergstrom, D.E., Noltie, D.B. and Holtsford, T.P. Journal Article 1998 The phylogeny, historical biogeography, and evolution of troglobitism in Amblyopsis rosae (Ozark cavefish) and Typhlichthys subterraneus (southern cavefish)
Elliott, W.R. Book Section 1998 Conservation of the North American cave and karst biota
Poulson, T. Journal Article 2001 Morphological and physiological correlates of evolutionary reduction of metabolic rate among amblyopsid cave fishes
Noltie, D. B. and Wicks, C.M. Journal Article 2001 How hydrogeology has shaped the ecology of Missouri's Ozark cavefish, Amblyopsis rosae, and southern cavefish, Typhlichthys subterraneus: Insights on the sightless from understanding the underground
Lewis, J.J. Report 2002 Conservation assessment for Southern cavefish (Typhlichthys subterraneus)
Aley, T., Ashley, D.C., Elliott, W.R., McGlimsey, M., Weaver, D. and Beard, J Book 2002 Conserving Missouri's caves and karst
Poly, WJ and Wetzel, JE Journal Article 2003 Transbrachioral spawning: novel reproductive strategy observed for the pirate perch Aphredodereus sayanus (Aphredoderidae)
Aumiller, S.R. and Noltie, D.B. Journal Article 2003 Chemoreceptive responses of the southern cavefish Typhlichthys subterraneus Girard, 1860 (Pisces, Amblyopsidae) to conspecifics and prey
Elliott, W.R. Book 2003 A guide to Mssouri's cave life
Poly, W.J. and Proudlove, G.S. Journal Article 2004 Family Amblyopsdae Bonaparte 1846
Compson, Z.G. Thesis 2004 An isotopic examination of cave, spring and epigean trophic structures in Mammoth Cave National Park
Romero, A. and Woodward, J.S. Journal Article 2005 On white fish and black men: Did Stephen Bishop really discover the blind cave fish of Mammoth Cave
Elliott, WR Journal Article 2007 Zoogeography and biodiversity of Missouri cave and karst
Aley, T, Aley, C, Moss, P and Hertzler, T Journal Article 2008 Hydrogeological characteristics of delineated recharge areas for 40 biologically significant cave and spring systems in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Illinois
Romero, A., Connor, M.S. and Vaughan, G.L. Journal Article 2010 Population Status of the Southern Cavefish, Typhlichthys subterraneus in Arkansas
Cooper, J.E. and Cooper, M.R. Journal Article 2011 Observations on the biology of the endangered stygobitic shrimp Palaemonias alabamae, with notes on P. ganteri (Decapoda: Atyidae)
Lewis, J.J., Lewis, S. and Nims, P. Report 2015 Observations on the ecosystem of Hidden River Cave bioinventory: Community cencus and water quality analysis
Armbruster, J., Niemiller, M.L. and Hart, P.B. Journal Article 2016 Morphological evolution of the cave-, spring-, and swampfishes of the Amblyopsidae
Niemiller, M.L., Zigler, K.S., Hart, P.B., Kuhajda, B.R., Armbruster, J., Ayala, B.N. and Engel, A.S. Journal Article 2016 First definitive record of a stygobiotic fish (Percopsiformes, Amblyopsidae, Typhlichthys) from the Appalachians karst region in the eastern United States
Hart, PB Thesis 2016 Diversity and conservation of the Southern Cavefish, Typhlichthys subterraneus
Burress, P.B.H., Burress, E.D. and Armbruster, J. Journal Article 2017 Body shape variation within the Southern Cavefish, Typhlichthys subterraneus (Percopsiformes: Amblyopsidae)
Toomey, R.., Hobbs, H.H. and Olson, R.A. Book Section 2017 An orientation to Mammoth Cave and this volume
White, W.B. and White, E.L. Book Section 2017 Hydrology and hydrogeology of Mammoth Cave
Poulson, T.L. Book Section 2017 Terrestrial cave ecology of the Mammoth Cave region
Helf, K. and Olson, R.A. Book Section 2017 Subsurface aquatic ecology of Mammoth Cave
Culver, D.C. and Hobbs, H.H. Book Section 2017 Biodiversity of Mammoth Cave
Hobbs, H.H., Olson, R., Winkler, E.G. and Culver, D.C. Book 2017 Mammoth Cave: A Human and Natural History
O’Dell, G.A. and George, A.I. Journal Article 2018 The celebrated black explorer Stephen Bishop and Mammoth Cave: Observations by an English journalist in 1853
Trimboli, S.R. and Toomey, R.S. Journal Article 2019 Temperature and reverse-flow patterns of the River Styx, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Adams, G.L., Burr, B.M. and Warren, M.L. Book Section 2020 Amblyopsidae: Cavefishes