Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni

Cooper and Kuehne 1974

Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni
Redrawn by Rhian Kendall from Cooper and Kuehne (1974)



The common name is Alabama Cavefish (Page et al. 2013, Adams et al. 2020)




Holotype: USNM 204999 adult female (with ova) 58.3 mm SL. Paratypes ("paratopotypes" of Cooper and Kuehne 1974): USNM 204998 3 specimens; UMMZ 197679 2 specimens; ALA (UAIC in Cooper and Kuehne 1974) 3705 2 specimens, 31.2-48.4mm SL. One specimen reported to be in the collection of T.L. Poulson was never in fact received by him (T.L. Poulson pers. comm.) and the location of this specimen is not known. This is the type species by original designation and monotypy of the cave‑restricted genus Speoplatyrhinus.


Alabama, USA.

Known only from the type locality: Key Cave, Lauderdale County, Alabama, USA (34o51’N, 87o40’W). Caves to the west of Key Cave, which may once have held populations, are now inundated after the creation of Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River. Collier Cave (also known as Collier Slough Bone Cave) lies within the aquifer seen in Key Cave and may be potential site for this species though it has never been seen there. Bell Cave, Elbow Cave and Watkins Sink Cave are also candidates for additional populations (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1985, 1990, Kuhajda and Mayden 2001). Typhlichthys subterraneus is also recorded from Key Cave (Steve Walsh pers. comm. and John Cooper pers. comm.).


Key cave contains sections of deep clear water and several bat roosts. There is an abundant aquatic fauna of stygobitic crayfishes (Procambarus pecki and Cambarus jonesi), amphipods, and isopods and a dense terrestrial invertebrate fauna from the bat guano. The diet probably also includes copepods. Key Cave is an important site for the endangered Gray Bat, Myotis grisesens, and it is thought that the presence of the bats is of vital importance to the cave fishes as their guano will provide direct and indirect sources of food.


This is the most troglomorphic of all amblyopsid fishes.

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. (2020) 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

MG TLO [CR B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii):3.1:2013]

(NatureServe. 2013. Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: Downloaded on 10 July 2017). E (Miller 1977), E (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1987), V (IUCN 1988), E (Williams, Johnson, Hendrickson, Balderas-Balderas, Williams., Navarro-Mendoza, McAllister and Deacon 1989), E (IUCN 1990, 1993), E (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1994, 1994), CR C2b (IUCN 1996, 2000), G1 (NatureServe 2002). Key Cave is now located within the Key Cave National Wildlife Refuge. This is an area of protected land in the recharge area for Key Cave and it is hoped that deleterious actions and events will be avoided or reduced (United States Fish and Wildlife Service 1996).

Museum Holdings

As above only.

Internet Resources

Encyclopedia of Alabama

Key References

Cooper, J.E. Journal Article 1968 Preliminary comments on a new genus and species of cave fish from Alabama
Cooper, J.E. and Kuehne, R.A. Journal Article 1974 Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni, a new genus and species of subterranean fish from Alabama
Cooper, J.E. Book Section 1980 Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni Cooper and Kuehne Alabama cavefish
Bechler, D.L. Thesis 1980 The evolution of agonistic behaviour in amblyopsid fishes
Bechler, D.L. Journal Article 1981 Behavioral studies on the Amblyopsidae; the cave, spring and swamp fish
Bechler, D.L. Journal Article 1981 Agonistic behaviour in the Amblyopsidae; the cave, spring and swamp fishes
US Fish and Wildlife Service Journal Article 1982 Recovery plan dor the Alabama cavefish, Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni Cooper and Kuehne 1974
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Book 1982 Gray bat recovery plan
Bechler, D.L. Journal Article 1983 The evolution of agonistic behaviour in Amblyopsid fishes
Cobb, R.M. Journal Article 1985 A reconnaissance of caves in Lauderdale and Colbert counties,Alabama for the Alabama cavefish Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni
Cobb, R.M. Journal Article 1986 An attempt to collect specimens of cavefish at three cave sites in northwest Alabama
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Journal Article 1987 Proposed rule to reclassify the Alabama cavefish (Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni), from threatened to endangered
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Journal Article 1988 Reclassification of the Alabama cavefish from threatened to endangered
Aley, T. Journal Article 1990 Delineation and hydrogeologic study of Key Cave aquifer, Lauderdale County, Alabama
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Journal Article 1990 Alabama cavefish, (Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni) Cooper and Kuehne, 1974 Recovery plan
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Journal Article 1991 Alabama cavefish (Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Report 1994 Draft Environmental Assessment and Land Protection Plan. Proposed establishment of Key Cave National Wildlife Refuge
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Journal Article 1996 Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Book 1996 Final environmental assessent and land protection plan. Proposed establishment of Key Cave National Wildlife Refuge, Lauderdale County, Alabama
Romero, A. Journal Article 1998 Threatened fishes of the world: Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni Cooper and Kuehne, 1974 (Amblyopsidae)
Kidd, R.E., Taylor, C.T. and Stricklin, V.E. Report 2001 Use of ground-water tracers to evaluate the hydraulic connection between Key Cave and the proposed industrial site near Florence, Alabama, 2000 and 2001
Poulson, T. Journal Article 2001 Morphological and physiological correlates of evolutionary reduction of metabolic rate among amblyopsid cave fishes
Kuhajda, B.R. and Mayden, R.L. Journal Article 2001 Status of the federally endangered Alabama cavefish, Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni (Amblyopsidae), in Key Cave and surrounding caves, Alabama
Poly, WJ and Wetzel, JE Journal Article 2003 Transbrachioral spawning: novel reproductive strategy observed for the pirate perch Aphredodereus sayanus (Aphredoderidae)
Kuhajda, B.R. Journal Article 2004 The impact of the proposed Eddie Frost Commerce Park on Speoplatyrhinus poulsoni, the Alabama cavefish, a federally endangered species restricted to Key Cave, Lauderdale County, Alabama
Poly, W.J. and Proudlove, G.S. Journal Article 2004 Family Amblyopsdae Bonaparte 1846
Niemiller, ML and Fitzpatrick, BM Journal Article 2008 Phylogenetics of the Southern cavefish, Typhlichthys subterraneus: Implications for conservation and management
Niemiller, M.L. and Poulson, T.L. Book Section 2010 Subterranean fishes of North America: Amblyopsidae
Niemiller, M. L., Near, T. J. and Fitzpatrick, B. M. Journal Article 2011 Delimiting species using multilocus data: Diagnosing cryptic diversity in the Southern Cavefish, Typhlichthys Subterraneus (Teleostei: Amblyopsidae)
Niemiller, M.L., Graening, G.O., Fenolio, D.B., Godwin, J.C., Cooley, J.R., Pearson, W.D., Fitzpatrick, B.M. and Near, T.J. Journal Article 2013 Doomed before they are described? The need for conservation assessments of cryptic species complexes using an amblyopsid cavefish (Amblyopsidae: Typhlichthys) as a case study
Niemiller, M.L., Higgs, D.M. and Soares, D. Journal Article 2013 Evidence for hearing loss in amblyopsid cavefishes
Niemiller, M.L., Fitzpatrick, B.M., Shah, P., Schmitz, L. and Near, T.J. Journal Article 2013 Evidence for repeated loss of selective constraint in rhodopsin of amblyopsid cavefishes (Teleostei: Amblyopsidae)
Armbruster, J., Niemiller, M.L. and Hart, P.B. Journal Article 2016 Morphological evolution of the cave-, spring-, and swampfishes of the Amblyopsidae
Ponta, G.M.L., McGregor, S.W. and Jones, S.W. Report 2018 Hydrogeological assessment of Key Cave, Lauderdale County, Alabama
Niemiller, M.L., Taylor, S.J., Slay, M.E. and Hobbs, H.H. III Book Section 2019 Biodiversity in the United States and Canada
Ponta, G. Web Page 2020 Monitoring karst aquifers in north Alabama for the protection of sensitive aquatic biota
Hart, P.B., Niemiller, M.L., Burress, E.D., Armbruster, J.W., Ludt, W.B. and Chakrabarty, P. Journal Article 2020 Cave-adapted evolution in the North American Amblyopsid fishes Inferred using phylogenomics and geometric morphometrics
Adams, G.L., Burr, B.M. and Warren, M.L. Book Section 2020 Amblyopsidae: Cavefishes
Ponta, G.M.L., McGregor, S.W. and Blackwood, R. Conference Paper 2020 Time series hydrologic monitoring within karst aquifers of Key Cave and Cathedral Caverns, Alabama