Paracobitis starostini

(Parin 1983)

Paracobitis starostini
Troglocobitis starostini from Suw Oyuk sinkhole. Photograph from Zimmerman, Jones, and Ball (2019) and used with the permission of Brian Zimmerman
CypriniformesCobitoidei Nemacheilidae


Paracobitis starostini was first recorded in 1979 by Vladimir Maltsev, first caught in 1981 by Nikolai Swerden and described in 1983 by Nikolai Parin (details from Zimmerman, Jones and Ball 2019).


Noemacheilus starostini  Parin 1983

Nemacheilus starostini  Parin 1983

Troglocobitis starostini  (Parin 1983)

Generic name misspelt Nemachilus by Pereladov (1989).




Holotype: ZISP 46159 49.5mm SL.

Paratypes: ZISP 46160 3 specimens 36.7mm, 43.6mm, and 47.6mm SL. ZISP (no reference number) 44.2mm SL. ZMMU P16030 and P16031 56.8mm and 61.0mm SL.

This species is the type species by monotypy of the subgenus and genus Troglocobitis.


Known only from the type locality: Provull Gypsum Cave, 45 km from the railway station at Tcharchanga and 60 km from the town of Gaourdak, in the mountainous area of Kugitangtau (also known as Koytendag), Lebap Province, Turkmenistan (37o37'37"N, 66o21'09"E, Kottelat 2012:134 = 37.596778N, 66.405500E, alt. 360m). Also known as Suw Oyuk (Suuvoyuk) (Sidorov et al. 2018, Zimmerman, Jones and Ball 2019). Despite a search of other similar sites in the same area Smirnov (1983) did not find any other locations for this species, and neither did Zimmerman, Jones and Ball in 2013-2015 (Zimmerman, Jones and Ball 2019). Provull Cave is about 5 km SW of the Cupp-Coutunn Cave in a gypsum karst (Maltsev and Self 1992)


Collected "in a karst collapse which opened in a region of subterraneous water flow” (Parin 1983), December water temperature 24oC (Smirnov 1983). The animals live in a lake within a gypsum cave and feed on a bacterial film on the surface of organic silt and/or on insect larvae and small Crustacea. This area is under the roosts of birds and bats. The fishes move about within the lake from depths of 4-5m down to at least 58m (Pereladov 1989). In May the water temperature was 19-20oC and the females were full of ripe eggs.                                                                                                                                             


Sufficiently distinct to merit erection of the subgenus Troglocobitis to contain it. Nalbant and Linares (1987) placed this species in the genus Paracobitis (retaining the subgenus Troglocobitis) but without giving their reasons. This was followed in the review paper of Decu et al. (2019). Eschmeyer's Catalogue of Fishes (Fricke et al. 2019) and the authoritative summary of world Cobitoidei (Kottelat 2012) both retain Troglocobitis and this is followed here.

According to the detailed phylogenetic study of Prokofiev (2010) Troglocobitis is sister genus to Paracobitis and both of these together are sister to Iskandaria Prokofiev 2009. All three genera are inluded in the tribe Nemacheilini within the subfamily Nemacheilinae.

Although the formal description of the species was published by Parin (1983) the name is available from Parin and  Dolzhansky (1982).

Biological Notes

The food supply in the cave might result from chemoautotrophic production as well as imported from outside.

The following account was found on a Russian language version of Wikipedia (Койтендагский_слепой_голец) and translated using Google Translate. This text is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. This page was last edited on April 3, 2021.

Koytendag blind charr

Koytendag blind fish, or Kugitang blind fish or Starostin's blind fish (latin name Troglocobitis starostini), is a cave species of ray-finned fish of the family Nemacheilidae. The only endemic fish of the inland waters of Turkmenistan. It is found only in the underground lake of the Suvly-Oyuk karst sinkhole in the Bulak-dere gorge in Kugitangtau, Koytendag, east of the village of Garlyk. The surface of the lake has an area of ​​about 40 m² and a depth of 5-7 m. The water is clean, transparent, salinity is about 5g/l (2.5 g/l of gypsum, including 690 mg/l Ca ++, 210 mg/l Mg++, about 2 g/l sodium chloride), pH = 7.08, water temperature (spring-summer-autumn) is 21–24 °C.

The species was first discovered by the traveler and cave explorer Vladimir Arkadyevich Maltsev (07/14/1957 - 02/15/2014) in 1978 in the waters of a small lake (about 40-45 m2 in area and 5-7 m deep), located at the bottom of a deep sinkhole. In November 1981, five fishes were caught and brought alive to Moscow by biologist and speleologist Vadim Yuryevich Dolzhansky, In Moscow they were transferred to ichthyologist Nikolai Vasilyevich Parin for description. In 1983, the biotope was studied by ichthyologist Sergei Smirnov as part of a speleological expedition led by V.Yu. Dolzhansky to study the cave system, called Mitya. The new species was described under the name Nemacheilus (Noemacheilus) starostini by Parin in 1983. The first article about the discovery of fish was written jointly by V.Yu. Dolzhansky and N.V. Parin in 1982 and published in the journal "Priroda". The species is named after V. I. Starostin, one of the organizers of systematic hydrobiological research in Soviet Central Asia.

The name has now been changed to Troglocobitis starostini. Before the discovery of this species, it was believed that there were no real troglobiont fish in water bodies on the territory of the former USSR.

A small fish with a maximum body length of up to 7 cm. Completely devoid of eyes. The color is yellowish-pinkish, which is due to the absence of pigments in the skin. Scales and swim bladder are absent. The body is elongated, almost cylindrical. Under the skin there is a continuous fatty layer.

Range and habitat

It is a narrow area endemic. The area of ​​distribution of the species includes a desert flat area at the foot of the Kugitangtau (Koytendag) mountain range near the village of Garlyk (Karlyuk) in the southeast of Turkmenistan. In this foothill area, there are several dozen sinkholes 10-20 m deep, which are the result of the presence of an underground hydraulic system, fed mainly by water runoff from the Koytendag mountain range. All of these dips are partially or completely water-filled dome-shaped dissolution cavities in gypsum-anhydrite sequences of the Kimmeridgian-Titonian age (Late Jurassic). The diameter of the cavities can exceed 100 m. The explored depth of the Suvly-Oyuk sinkhole is more than 70 m. The main water artery (Kugitang-darya) is fed in the upper reaches by karst bicarbonate-calcium waters, but along the way it receives bitter-salty springs of its right bank. In the middle reaches, most of the runoff goes into underground channels of gypsum-anhydrite strata. Therefore, the water in the dips is gypsum-chloride-sodium with a mineralization of up to 5 g/l. The lower course of the Kugitang Darya is completely underground with a runoff to the Amu Darya. Several hydrogen sulfide sources are also known. According to V. Maltsev, it was the insurmountable hydrogen sulfide barrier that was the reason for the isolation of the blind fish. The only known habitat of the species is an interconnected system: a lake at the bottom of the sinkhole, which, at a depth of 15 m, is connected by a narrow passage with a vast underground cavity filled with water. The upper part of the cavity has a domed shape, at a depth of 30 m its diameter is about 100 m. This cavity is probably the main habitat of this species. The entrance lake is probably a seasonal feeding place for fish, since the food base in it is much richer than in the underground cavity. The sun's rays are able to reach the entrance lake, and bats and pigeons settle on the walls. Their droppings enter the lake and contribute to the development of aquatic vegetation – filamentous algae and water mosses that cover the stones on the bottom and walls. Blind cave isopods and gastropods have also been found in the lake. The water in the lake is mineralized (about 3 g/l), quite transparent and has a constant temperature of 22-24°C . In neighboring caves, identical in water chemistry, the blind fish is not found. The original, not blind, species is found in the Kugitang-darya.


The biology of the species is poorly understood but it is certainly a troglobiont. It probably feeds on various organic remains, since fish of this species usually graze on the bottom of the lake, or scrape organic matter off the walls of the sinkhole. In spring, when a large amount of organic matter enters the underground hydraulic system along with the runoff of water, fish rarely swim out into the open inlet lake. In autumn, when there is much less food in the underground cavity, they often swim out into the entrance lake. Reproduction has not been studied. In May-June 2015, the RSPB expedition caught 7 specimens, 2 of which were taken for a complete species and genetic description.

Numbers and protection

The number has not been determined. In the underground cavity, it is estimated at several hundred adults. In the inlet lake, it varies depending on the season or features of the year.

In the first years of the discovery of the species (1978-1983), up to 150 individuals could be found in the entrance lake. In early December 1983, 60 individuals were counted. In September 2003, no fish were found, and in October 2004, 20 individuals were recorded, in 2010 - 12 individuals.

The data indirectly indicate a trend in population decline. The main limiting factors are habitat disturbance and uncontrolled fishing. There are cases when, in the first half of the 1980s, fishes were sold at the bird market in Moscow and Novosibirsk.

The species is listed in the Red Book of Turkmenistan. It is protected in the Garlyk reserve of the Koytendag nature reserve, which in practice does almost nothing for its conservation.


1. Nemacheilus starostini. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (Accessed: June 5, 2019).

2. Annabayramov B. and others. The Red Data Book of Turkmenistan. Vol. 2: Invertebrates and vertebrates. - 3rd ed., revised. and additional - Ashgabat: Ylym, 2011. - 384 p.

3. Salnikov V. B. The current state of the ichthyofauna of Koytendag water bodies and measures for its protection // Proceedings of the scientific-practical conference dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Khazar State Reserve. - Ashgabat-Turkmenbashi, 2008. - S. 149-152.

4. Reshetnikov Yu. S., Kotlyar A. N., Russ T. S., Shatunovsky M. I. Five-language dictionary of animal names. Fishes. Latin, Russian, English, German, French. / under the general editorship of acad. V. E. Sokolova. — M.: Rus. yaz., 1989. - S. 155. - 12,500 copies. — ISBN 5-200-00237-0.

5. Parin N. V. Noemachelius (Troglocobitis) starostini sp. n. (Osteichthyes, Cobitidae) — a new blind fish from the underground waters of Kugitangtau (Turkmenistan) // Zoological Journal. - 1983. - Issue. 1. - S. 83-89.

6. Red Data Book of Turkmenistan. T. 1. Invertebrates and vertebrates. - 2nd ed. - Ashgabat: Turkmenistan. 1999. - S. 146-147.

7. Rustamov E. A., Welch J., Karryeva Sh. B., Vard S. On the characterization of the biodiversity of Koytendag (Turkmenistan) // Selevinia / Editor-in-Chief A. F. Kovshar. - 2014. - T. 22. - P. 111. - ISBN 978-601-7287-17-7.

8. Shaniyaz Menliev. Amazing and rare inhabitants of the Karlyuk caves. (February 7, 2019). Retrieved: June 6, 2019.

9. Shilin N. I., Pereladov M. V. The Koytendag (Kugitang) blind charr is a rare and vulnerable representative of the cave ichthyofauna // Caves. - 2013. - No. 37. - S. 150-157.

10. In the journal "Science and Life" the surname Stepanov is erroneously indicated: Parin I. Underground fish // Science and Life: Journal, - 1983. - No. 7. - P. 17.

11. Pereladov M. History of one record. Bulak-Dara canyon cave // ​​Neptune. - 2012. - No. 5. - S. 48-54.

12. Pereladov M. V. History of research and modern problems of studying and protecting the fauna of underground hydrosystems in the region of the Koytendag ridge (Kugitang-Tau), Turkmenistan // Turkmen nature: unsolved secrets of Koytendag: materials of the international. scientific conf. - Ashgabat: Turkmenistan, 2012. - S. 337-339.

13. Salnikov V. B. Ichthyofauna of Kugitang reservoirs // Problems of desert development. - Ashgabat, 2006. - S. 18-23.

Conservation Status

MG TLO [VU D2:3.1:2020]

Karimov, B. 2020. Troglocobitis starostini. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T39461A156723710

VU (D2) 2000. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2000: Downloaded on 14 July 2017. R (IUCN 1990), R (IUCN 1993), DD (IUCN 1996).

As long ago as 1996 (Maltsev 1996) reported the following: "The Provull cave, residence of the troglobitic loach (a unique troglobitic fish), is polluted. In spite of all the efforts for its conservation, declared by the Turkmenistan government, a new sheep farm was located nearby, and this spring several tons of sheep feces were moved by a mudflow into the entrance. It’s still unknown whether the blind loaches survived after it." So the current conservation status may be considerably worse than VU D2.

Museum Holdings

Four other specimens in addition to the type series, probably at IOAS.

Internet Resources

Fishbase with photograph

Key References

Parin, N.V. and Dolzhansky, V.Y Journal Article 1982 Noemacheilus starostini, the first blind cave fish for the fauna of the USSR
Parin, N.V. Journal Article 1983 Noemacheilus (troglocobitis) starostini sp. n. (Osteichthyes,Cobitidae) Novaya slepay a ryba iz podzemnykh vod Kuritangtau (Turkmeniya) [Noemacheilus (Troglocobitis) starostini sp. n. (Osteichthyes, Cobitidae) a new blind fish from subterranean waters of
Smirnov, S. Journal Article 1983 A blind cave loach from south-western Asia, Noemacheilus starostini Parin
Zalesskaya, N.T. and Golovatch, S.I. Book Section 1989 The condition of biospeleology in the USSR
Pereladov, M. Journal Article 1989 Some aspects of disribution of fishes in the subaquatic caves near Kugitang-Tau Mountains
Zalesskaja, N.T. Journal Article 1989 On the progres in Soviet biospeleology in the 1980s
Maltsev, V.A. and Self, C.A. Journal Article 1992 Cupp-Coutunn cave system, Turkmenia, Central Asia
Maltsev, V.A. Journal Article 1996 News in the Kugitangtou caves exploration
Maltsev, V. and Korshunov, V. Journal Article 1998 Geochemistry of fluorite and related features of the Kugitangtou Ridge Caves, Turkmenistan
Salnikov, V.B. Book Section 2006 Ichthyofauna of the Kugitang reservoirs
Kolvoort, I. and Kolvoort, W. Journal Article 2008 Blindganger in de onderwaterwerelo
Prokofiev, A.M. Journal Article 2009 Problems of the classification and phylogeny of nemacheiline loaches of the group lacking the preethmoid I (Cypriniformes: Balitoridae: Nemacheilinae)
Prokofiev, A.M. Journal Article 2010 Morphological classification of loaches (Nemacheilinae)
Kottelat, M. Journal Article 2012 Conspectus cobitidum: An inventory of the loaches of the world (Teleostei: Cypriniformes: Cobitoidei)
Collette, B.B. Journal Article 2013 Obituaries. Nikolai Vasil’evich Parin (1932–2012)
Shilin N.I. and Pereladov M.V. Journal Article 2013 The Koytendag (Kugitang) blind charr is a rare and vulnerable representative of the cave ichthyofauna
Turbanov, I.S., Palatov, D.M. and Golovatch, S.I. Journal Article 2016 The state of the art of biospeleology in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union: a review of the cave (endogean) invertebrate fauna. 1. Introduction—Crustacea
Turbanov, I.S., Palatov, D.M. and Golovatch, S.I. Journal Article 2016 The state of the art of biospeleology in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union: a review of the cave (endogean) invertebrate fauna. 2. Arachnida - Acknowledgements
Turbanov, I.S., Palatov, D.M. and Golovatch, S.I. Journal Article 2016 The state of the art of biospeleology in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union: a review of the cave (endogean) invertebrate fauna. 3. References
Sendra, A., Sket, B. and Stoev, P. Journal Article 2017 A striking new genus and species of troglobitic Campodeidae (Diplura) from Central Asia
Sidorov, D., Hou, Z. and Sket, B. Journal Article 2018 Three new remarkable amphipod species (Crustacea: Gammaridae) from springs and subterranean waters of Central Asia
Degtyarev, A. and Pereladov, M. Book Section 2019 Hydrogeology
Welch, G. and Stoev, P. Book 2019 A report of RSPB-supported scientific research at Koytendag State Nature Reserve, East Turkmenistan
Zimmerman, B., Jones, R. and Ball, S. Book Section 2019 Fishes. In: A report of RSPB-supported scientific research at Koytendag State Nature Reserve, East Turkmenistan. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, 42-58 pp.
Sket, B., Stoev, P., Deltshev, C., Marusik, Y. and Deharveng, L. Book Section 2019 Cave fauna. In: A report of RSPB-supported scientific research at Koytendag State Nature Reserve, East Turkmenistan
Decu, V., Juberthie, C., Iepure, S., Gheorghiu, V. and Nazareanu, G. Journal Article 2019 An overview on the subterranean fauna from central Asia
Karimov, B. Web Page 2020 Troglocobitis starostini. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T39461A156723710
Komarov, V. Web Page 2021 New species of cave fauna discovered in Koytendag
Freyhof, J., Geiger, M.F., Ball, S. and Zimmerman, B. Journal Article 2022 DNA barcode data confirm the placement of subterranean Noemacheilus (Troglocobitis) starostini Parin 1983 in the genus Paracobitis (Teleostei, Nemacheilidae)
Redrawn by Rhian Kendall from Parin (1983)