The first troglobitic Pseudochthonius Balzan, 1892 (Pseudoscorpiones, Chthoniidae) from the karst area of Serra do Ramalho, Brazil: a threatened species
expand article infoLeonardo de Assis, Diego Monteiro von Schimonsky, Maria Elina Bichuette
‡ Universidade Federal de São Carlos, São Carlos, Brazil
Open Access


Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. is described to Gruna do Vandercir cave, in the Serra do Ramalho karst area, southwestern Bahia, Brazil. This area has an extensive limestone outcrop, with several caves, and the occurrence of potential minerals that are financially attractive for mining projects. The new species shows troglomorphic characteristics such as the depigmentation of the carapace and absence or reduction of eyes. It is a rare troglobitic species, and following the criteria of IUCN, we categorized the species as Critically Endangered – CR, IUCN criteria B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii). According to Brazilian legislation, locations, where critically endangered species live, can be protected by law, and we consider this cave/region to be of maximal relevance for protection.


Arachnida, Bahia State, Chthoniinae, conservation, endemic, troglobite


Pseudoscorpions are represented in the Brazilian fauna by 14 families and 176 species (Harvey 2013; Schimonsky and Bichuette 2019a; Benavides et al. 2019; Viana and Ferreira 2020; Bedoya-Roqueme et al. 2021). Only 33 species are known to occur in subterranean habitats (caves) belonging to 12 genera and eight families (Beier 1969; Mahnert 2001; Andrade and Mahnert 2003; Ratton et al. 2012; Schimonsky et al. 2014; Viana et al. 2018; Schimonsky and Bichuette 2019b; Viana and Ferreira 2020; Bedoya-Roqueme et al. 2021). The family Chthoniidae includes three subfamilies, Chthoniinae, Tridenchthoniinae, and Lechtyiinae, currently with 50 genera and 769 described species in the world (Harvey 2013; Zhang and Zhang 2014; Gao et al. 2018; Zaragoza and Reboleira 2018; Benavides et al. 2019). It occurs in several regions of the world, with the greatest diversity in the USA (147), Italy (84), Spain (59), Australia (36) (Harvey 2013). In Brazil, the family Chthoniidae has 29 species in eleven genera, Heterolophus Tömösváry, 1884, Tridenchthonius Balzan, 1887, Lechthyia Balzan, 1892, Pseudochthonius Balzan, 1892, Compsaditha Chamberlin, 1929, Tyrannochthonius Chamberlin, 1929, Austrochthonius Chamberlin, 1929, Soroditha Chamberlin & Chamberlin, 1945, Neoditha Feio, 1945, Cryptoditha Chamberlin & Chamberlin, 1945 and Lagynochthonius Beier, 1951 (Harvey 2013; Lira et al. 2020).

The genus Pseudochthonius is characterized by the absence of an intercoxal tubercle, the presence of coxal spines on coxae I and II, and in most cases, having strongly sigmoid palpal chelal fingers (Muchmore 1986; Mahnert and Adis 2002). Pseudochthonius is known from Asia (one species from Saudi Arabia), Africa (five species distributed in the Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast), Central America [six living species of which two are troglobites: P. troglobius Muchmore, 1986 from Mexico (Muchmore 1986) and P. arubensis Wagenaar-Hummelinck, 1948, from the Netherlands Antilles (Wagenaar-Hummelinck1948) and one fossil species (Schawaller 1980)] and South America, with nine species in Brazil (Harvey 2013; Mahnert et al. 2014; Lira et al. 2020), followed by Ecuador with three, Venezuela with two and Uruguay with one species (Harvey 2013). In Brazil, two Pseudochthonius species are troglobites (Mahnert 2001), i.e., they have exclusive populations in the hypogean environment: P. strinatii Beier, 1969 and P. biseriatus Mahnert, 2001. Pseudochthonius is one of the four Chthoniidae genera that occurs in Brazilian caves, previously reported only for13 caves, with four species (Beier 1969; Mahnert 2001). Recently, this genus was recorded in other karst areas and biogeographical provinces, increasing its distribution to 37 caves (Schimonsky and Bichuette 2019b).

Here, we describe a new Pseudochthonius species found in a single cave in the Serra do Ramalho karst area, southwestern Bahia, Brazil. We also provide data regarding the conservation status of the species and the area.

Material and methods

Study area

The karst area of the Serra do Ramalho region (Fig. 1), southwestern Bahia, Brazil, is composed of rocks containing rare metals with mining potential (Silva Junior and Campos 2016). The region is formed by extensive limestone areas with many caves and karst system formations (Fig. 2), sheltering a high diversity (e.g., Bichuette and Trajano 2004, 2005; Bichuette and Rizzato 2012; Gallão and Bichuette 2018). It belongs to the Jacaré formation, Bambuí group, composed of dark, heterogeneous limestones, presenting intercalations with layers of claystone, deposited about 750 to 600 million years ago (Rubbioli et al. 2019). The region located in the middle of the São Francisco River basin is characterized by a tropical dry climate, with a dry winter and an average annual precipitation rate between 800 and 1000 mm (Gonçalves et al. 2018).

Figure 1. 

Map depicting the known distribution of Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. in Gruna do Vandercir cave, located in Bahia state. The cave belongs to karst area in Jacaré formation, Bambuí group.

Figure 2. 

A Gruna do Vandercir cave B surroundings of Gruna do Vandercir cave with its dry characteristic vegetation (Images A Adriano Gambarini B Maria Elina Bichuette).

Material examined and treatment of specimens

Specimens were prepared by immersion in 85% lactic acid at room temperature for two weeks (Judson 1992). They were then examined by preparing temporary slide mounts with 10 mm coverslips supported by sections of nylon fish line (Harvey 2021). Specimens were examined with Nikon SMZ660 Stereomicroscope and Leica DMLS compound microscope and the male holotype was illustrated with the aid of a camera lucida. The female specimen was examined and illustrated through a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM, FEI Quanta 250) in low-vacuum mode (ESEM) located at the “Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia dos Hymenoptera Parasitoides da Região Sudeste Brasileira”. After the study, the male specimen was cleaned in water and returned to 70% ethanol with its dissected parts in glass vials, and the female specimen was stored dry, due to the SEM picturing process.

Images (Figs 4, 10) were taken with a Leica DFC 295 camera attached to a Leica M205C stereomicroscope with a Planapo 1.0× objective. Figures were produced from stacks of images on Leica Application Suite (LAS) software v3.7. The drawings were digitized and vectorized on Illustrator CC 2019. The maps were produced with the software QuantumGis Desktop 3.6.0 (QGis Open Source Geospatial Foundation). The coordinates were obtained from field trips to the study location with a global positioning system (GPSGarmin 60CSx).

The examined specimens are deposited in Laboratório de Estudos Subterrâneos, in Universidade Federal de São Carlos (LES, curator: Maria Elina Bichuette). For comparative purpose of some morphological characters like classical troglomorphisms in pseudoscorpions (eyes/ocular structures, proportionally longer body, and ratio pedipalpal chela/carapace), the new species was compared to two hypogean species, and one undetermined epigean species of Pseudochthonius sp.

Comparative material. Brazil – Parana Forest ProvincePseudochthonius strinatii;1♂, São Paulo, Iporanga, Parque Estadual Turístico do Alto Ribeira, Sumidouro da Passoca cave; 24°33'57"S, 48°43'W; 03.xii.2013; Bichuette ME, Gallão JE, Fernandes CS, Rizzato PP, Fonseca R and Arnone I leg.; LES9391. – Parana Forest ProvincePseudochthonius biseriatus; 1♂Minas Gerais, Itacarambi, Olhos d‘Água cave; 15°7'0.10"S, 44°10'0.10"W; 24.vii.2012; Bichuette ME, Gallão JE, and Rizzato PP leg.; LES9434. – Caatinga ProvincePseudochthonius sp. undetermined species; 1♂; Bahia, Carinhanha, epigean habitat near Viração cave; 26.vii.2012; LES9629.

Terminology and mensuration

The terminology and measurements mostly follow Chamberlin (1931). Legs, pedipalps, and trichobothria terminology follows Harvey (1992) except for the chelal movable finger, which follows Mahnert et al. 2014. For chelicera Judson (2007), chaetotactic formulae of chelicera follow Gabbutt and Vachon (1963) and the duplex trichobothria follow Judson (2018).


♂ male;

♀ female.

chelal trichobothria

b basal;

sb sub–basal;

st sub–terminal;

t terminal;

ib interior basal;

isb interior sub–basal;

ist interior sub–terminal;

it interior terminal;

eb exterior basal;

esb exterior sub–basal;

est exterior sub–terminal;

et exterior terminal;

dx duplicate trichobothria.

cheliceral setae

gl galeal;

dt dorsal terminal;

dst dorsal sub–terminal;

db dorsal basal;

vt ventral terminal;

vb ventral basal;

di isolated subapical tooth.

The following body structures were measured and compared proportionally for the characterization of possible troglomorphisms: carapace; chelal hand; chelal fixed finger (Christiansen 2012; Harvey and Wynne 2014; Feng et al. 2020; Harvey and Cullen 2020).



Family Chthoniidae Daday, 1889

Subfamily Chthoniinae Daday, 1889

Tribe Chthoniini Daday, 1889

Genus Pseudochthonius Balzan, 1892

Pseudochthonius ramalho Assis, Schimonsky & Bichuette, sp. nov.

Figs 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Type material

Holotype : 1 ♂ (LES9601) Brazil Caatinga province, Serra do Ramalho karst area, Serra do Ramalho, Bahia, Gruna do Vandercir cave; 13°38'11.40"S, 43°50'5.10"W; 31 May 2012; Bichuette ME, Gallão JE, Hattori N leg. Paratype: 1 ♀ (LES9602), same data as holotype.

Figure 3. 

Holotype of Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. in natural habitat, at Gruna do Vandercir cave, Serra do Ramalho, Bahia. (Image: Adriano Gambarini).

Figure 4. 

Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. holotype male, habitus A dorsal view B ventral view.

Figure 5. 

Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. scanning electron images. Paratype female, habitus A dorsal view B ventral view C zoom in on the anterior margin of the carapace with eye spots denoted with red circle. (Images: Luciana B. R. Fernandes).


The species is named after the region of Serra do Ramalho due to its importance regarding the speleological heritage and the unique fauna and flora diversity. The name is to be treated as a noun in apposition.


Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. can be identified by the following combination of characters: eyes absent (♂) or with eyes-spots (♀); the middle and distal fixed chelal finger teeth positioned two by two with 29–30 acuminate teeth and 3–4 slightly basally rounded ones, the presence of two rounded micro–denticles, along with pedipalpal fixed finger teeth in males; trichobothria ist closer to esb than to the est (ratio ist-est/ist-esb = 4.71); serrula exterior with 13 (♂) or 14 (♀) lamellae, rallum with seven blades, and coxae I and II with 3 to 5 coxal spines.


(adultand ♀) . Body: Coloration of specimens in 70% ethanol yellowish brown and translucent pedipalps, tergites III–V with a dark median mark, and a darker abdominal region. Live specimens present a light pinkish color on their carapace and appendages, and a light brown abdomen. Female is slightly smaller than male.

Chelicera (Figs 6A, 7B, C): five setae on left hand, with one seta on the basal position of the fixed finger and one nearly the basal seta on the movable finger; six setae on the right hand; without the lateral microsetae; fixed finger with 10–11 (♂ and ♀) teeth proximally reduced in size; movable finger with 9 (♂) or 8(♀) teeth proximally reduced in size, three distal teeth distinctly larger than others and with subapical isolated tooth (di). Spinneret moderately prominent and apically rounded in female, vestigial in male. Seta gl 0.15 mm from base of movable finger. Serrula exterior with 13 (♂),14 (♀) lamellae. Rallum with seven blades pectinated. Dorsal face of cheliceral palm with four lyrifissures, three lyrifissures situated near seta dt and one situated posteriorly.

Figure 6. 

Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. female paratype scanning electron images A detail on the right chelicera of serrula exterior and rallum B detail on the right pedipalp trichobothrium isb and ib, lateral C left pedipalp D detail on the left pedipalp teeth. (Images: L. B. R. Fernandes).

Figure 7. 

Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov., male A carapace dorsal view, and detail of the anterior margin (with the epistome) B right chelicera (dorsal view) C detail of the rallum D coxa I and II E details of coxal spines F leg I (lateral view) G leg IV (lateral view).

Pedipalp (Figs 6B–D, 8A–F): 1.4 (♂),1.2 (♀) × longer than carapace and 2.2 (♂), 2.6 (♀) × longer than patella; movable finger 1.6 (♂), 1.9 (♀) × longer than hand; fixed finger 1.65 (♂),1.72 (♀) × longer than hand. Fixed chelal finger long and strongly sigmoid in its distal half. Male fixed finger with 33 acute teeth, distinctly separated from each other, but paired and in each pair, one tooth is slightly directed to inside and the other to the outside, and micro–denticles in two interdental spaces, on teeth 15 and 29, respectively. Female fixed finger with 31 teeth arranged as in as in male. Movable finger with 30–33(♂ and ♀) flattened and separated teeth. Trichobothria: ib and isb situated close to each other sub–medially in the dorsal region of the chelal hand; eb closer to esb than to ist, forming a straight oblique row at the base of the fixed chelal finger; ist closer to esb than to the est (ratio istest/istesb = 4.71); et slightly near the tip of the fixed finger, near to the chelal teeth; dx, located near to the end of the fixed finger; sb closer to b than to st in the movable chelal finger (ratio sbst/sbb = 3.37); t closer to st and situated at the same level as est.

Figure 8. 

A holotype left pedipalp showing the trichobothria distribution B details of chelal teeth C distal part of fixed chelal finger (lateral view) D detail with emphasis on the micro–denticles in two interdental spaces, on teeth 15 and 29, respectively E pedipalp femur F distal part of fixed chelal finger (ventral view).

Carapace (Fig. 7A): Carapace 1.09× longer than broad, posteriorly constricted, chaetotaxy 4:4:4:2:2 (16), one preocular microseta on each side; eyes absent on male and a tiny eyespot on female; anterior margin distinctly serrate with median denticles larger than lateral ones; epistome prominent and dentate (Fig. 7A–C); 3 lyrifissures anteriorly, 1 medially and 2 posteriorly.

Abdomen : Chaetotaxy of tergites I–XI: ♂, 4: 4: 4: 4: 6: 6: 6: 6: 6: 5: 3; ♀, 4: 4: 4: 4: 5: 6: 6: 6: 6: 5: 3. Chaetotaxy of sternites III–XI: (♂/♀) 12: 13: 8: 8: 8: 8: 6: 5: 2, anal cone 0/2 setae.

Genital area : Anterior genital operculum with 8 (♂), 9 (♀) marginal and discal setae, arranged triangularly in male, with 7–8 unmodified marginal setae on each side; posterior operculum with 6 setae in female.

Coxae (Fig. 7D, E): Manducatory process distally acute, with 2 setae; pedipalpal coxa with 3 setae, coxa I and II with 4–5 setae on anterior margin and 3–5 highly dented coxal spines in decreasing size distally, coxa III with 7 setae and coxa IV with 8 setae; intercoxal tubercle absent.

Legs (Fig. 7F, G): Typical of the genus (Chamberlin 1929).

Measurements and ratios : see Table 1.

Table 1.

Measurements (in mm) and proportions (l/b, length/breadth; l/d, length/depth) of the holotype male and paratype female of Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov.

Holotype (Paratype) Holotype (Paratype) l/b; l/d
Body 1.55 (1.45)
Carapace 0.46/0.42 (0.45/0.42) 1.1 (1.0)
narrower part posteriorly 0.27
Pedipalpal trochanter 0.18/0.12 (0.16/0.11) 1.6 (1.5) l/b
Pedipalpal femur 0.65/0.16 (0.54/0.13) 4.1 (4.1) l/b
Pedipalpal patella 0.29/0.15(0.25/0.12) 4.1 (2.1) l/b
Pedipalpal chela 0.90/0.20 (0.81/0.14) 4.5 (5.8) l/d
Pedipalpal hand 0.35/0.20 (0.29/0.14) 1.9 (2.1) l/d
Pedipalpal fixed finger 0.58/0.05 (0.50/0.02)
Pedipalpal movable finger 0.57/0.04 (0.55/0.02)
Chelicera 0.39/0.19 (0.38/0.18) 2.1 (2.1) l/b
Chelicera movable finger 0.18 (0.17)
Leg I femur 0.35/0.06 (0.36/0.05) 5.9 (7.2) l/d
Leg I patella 0.18/0.05 (0.16/0.05) 3.6 (3.2) l/d
Leg I tibia 0.21/0.04 (0.15/0.04) 5.2 (3.8) l/d
Leg I tarsus 0.33/0.03 (0.29/0.03) 11 (9.6) l/d
Leg IV trochanter 0.18/0.16 (0.16/0.13) 1.1 (1.2) l/b
Leg IV femur + patella 0.76/0.28 (0.70/0.12) 2.7 (5.8) l/d
Leg IV tibia 0.38/0.08 (0.16/ 0.05) 4.7 (3.2) l/d
Leg IV basitarsus 0.19/0.05 (0.18/0.05) 3.8 (3.6) l/d
Leg IV telotarsus 0.35/0.03 (0.34/0.02) 11.6 (17) l/d

Taxonomic remarks

The new species Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. is compared with other hypogean and epigean Pseudochthonius species. It most resembles other Brazilian species of Pseudochthonius that lack eyes, and occur in caves, like P. strinatii and P. biseriatus. Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. has 5 coxal spines, almost ever–increasingly arranged; sternites V–VIII with 8 setae on sternal chaetotaxy; trichobothrium ist is 4× farther from est than from esb; the middle and distal fixed chelal finger teeth differ only in their direction, but not in their size or shape, with teeth arranged two by two; male is slightly larger; it has pedipalpal patella and pedipalpal femur proportionally larger and smaller (4.1 ♂ and ♀). Differently, Pseudochthonius strinatii has 2 longer and 2 shorter coxal spines; sternal chaetotaxy with 6 setae on each sternite; the position of trichobothria ist is 3× farther from est than from esb; its fixed chelal finger teeth show heterodontism; pedipalpal patella and pedipalpal femur proportionally smaller (2.0 ♂) and larger (5.3–6.1 ♂), respectively. Pseudochthonius biseriatus has 2 setae on tergites I and II, a rallum with nine setae, and 37–41 teeth arranged in an offset manner; chelal length 1.24–1.39. In contrast, P. ramalho sp. nov. has four setae on tergites I and II, a rallum with seven blades, and chela fixed finger with 30–33 teeth; chelal length 0.81–0.90. All three species share the unpigmented tegument with other troglobitc Pseudochthonius species, like P. troglobius and P. pulchellus (Ellingsen, 1902). However, P. ramalho sp. nov. differs from these and from P. biseriatus and P. strinatii due the presence of ocular spots in the female. Other nontroglobitic Pseudochthonius present in Brazilian caves, have eyespots (P. gracilimanus Mahnert, 2001 and P. ricardoi Mahnert, 2001). Pseudochthonius troglobius has a pedipalpal fixed finger with 65 teeth, and proportionally larger body features (e.g., movable finger 2.14× longer than hand). This is different from P. ramalho sp. nov. with 30–33 teeth in the fixed pedipalpal finger and a proportionally smaller body (e.g., movable finger 1.6× longer than hand). Considering the number of marginal teeth on the pedipalpal movable finger, P. ramalho sp. nov. resembles P. gracilimanus and P. strinatii with 30–33 teeth (Beier 1969; Mahnert 2001), but it differs from the P. biseriatus (34–37), P. ricardoi (43), and the epigean P. orthodactylus Muchmore, 1970 (7) (Muchmore 1970; Mahnert 2001). Also, Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. tarsus of leg I (9.6–11× longer than deep) is similar to other brazilian cave-dwelling species like P. biseriatus (10.3–11.0), P. strinatii (9.5–10.7), P. ricardoi (10.1) and is longer than the epigean species P. tuxeni (7.3) (Beier 1969; Mahnert 1979; Mahnert 2001).


Distribution of the genus Pseudochthonius in Brazil

Species of Pseudochthonius occur in five Brazilian states (Fig. 9): in the state of São Paulo (southeastern Brazil) with representatives of P. strinatii and P. ricardoi in cave habitats (Alto Ribeira karst area) and P. brasiliensis (in the region of Barueri); in state of Minas Gerais (southeastern Brazil), with the troglobitic species P. biseriatus endemic to the cave Olhos d‘Água; in the state of Bahia (northeastern Brazil), with the new species described herein P. ramalho sp. nov., troglobitic and endemic of to Gruna do Vandercir cave, and also P. gracilimanus in cave habitat; in the state of Pará (northern Brazil) with representatives P. orthodactylus and P. tuxeni; and in the state of Amazonas (northern Brazil) the species P. homodentatus has been found in the Ducke Reserve and P. heterodentatus Hoff, 1946 was registered in the Urucu river basin (Aguiar and Bührnheim 1994). However, recently, this genus was recorded in other karst areas and biogeographical provinces, increasing its distribution to 37 more caves (Schimonsky and Bichuette 2019b).

Figure 9. 

Distribution of epigean and hypogean Pseudochthonius species in Brazil, with troglobitic representatives detached.

Troglomorphic traits

Troglomorphic traits are characteristics that propose a relationship between hypogean species and the subterranean environment, associated with behavior, physiology, and mainly, morphology. Although these characteristics are useful to differentiate hypogean from epigean species, they do not explain the direct connection between the subterranean habitats and the species that inhabit it (Juberthie and Decu 1994).

Most families of pseudoscorpions have at least one troglomorphic feature. Chthoniidae can be considered one of the most important families regarding occurrence in subterranean habitats (Harvey et al. 2000; Reddell 2012). The most common troglomorphic characteristics are eye reduction and cutaneous melanin depigmentation, classified as regressive evolution (Christiansen 2012), in addition to progressive morphological changes, such as appendages elongation, which is fundamental for spatial orientation, defense, and predation in a habitat with the absence of light (Chamberlin and Malcolm 1960; Christiansen 2012). Examples of progressive morphological changes could be the comparison in the proportional length of the different body parts of different species, which highlights the appendages elongation, e.g., the tibia and the tarsus and of leg I. The hypogean species Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. (5.2× longer than deep; 9.6–11× longer than deep), P. biseriatus (6.0× longer than deep; 10.3–11× longer than deep), P. strinatii (4.8× longer than deep; 9.5–10.7× longer than deep), P. ricardoi (5.3× longer than deep; 10.1× longer than deep). In the epigean species, P. heterodentatus (3.6× longer than deep; 10.0× longer than deep) and P. tuxeni (3.6× longer than deep; 7.3× longer than deep). Nevertheless, the epigean fauna of pseudoscorpions in South America is still little known (Mahnert and Adis 2002), which makes it difficult to compare hypogean and epigean individuals for the establishment of new troglomorphic characteristics. The female of the new species P. ramalho sp. nov. has ocular spots (Fig. 5) and the male has no ocular features. These characteristics should indicate a troglomorphic traits, that is, characters adapted to life in the subterranean environment (Fong 2012). Thus, these features can be compared with other Brazilian cave species (non–troglobitic), which have two small eyes (P. gracilimanus) or indistinct eye spots (P. ricardoi). When compared with some epigean species (P. thibaudi Castri, 1983 and P. arabicus Mahnert, 2014) it is noted that the absence or reduction of ocular traces is a troglomorphic trait (Fig. 10).

Figure 10. 

Morphological differences on the carapace of hypogean and epigean species of Pseudochthonius: eyes (denoted with red circle), and the narrowing of the posterior region of the carapace (marked with dashed line on the sides of the carapace) A hypogean P. ramalho sp. nov. (male) B epigean P. thibaudi C epigean P. arabicus.

Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. (Fig. 11A), P. strinatii (Fig. 11B) and P. biseriatus (Fig. 11C) show a narrowing in the carapace from the anterior to the posterior margin of the carapace of approximately 0.28 mm (anterior region 1.57× broad than longer), 0.26 mm (anterior region 1.61× broad than longer) and 0.29 mm (anterior region 1.37× broad than longer), respectively, when compared to the epigean Pseudochthonius sp. (unidentified species) (Fig. 11D), which is about 0.41 mm wide (anterior region 0.92× broad than longer), this could be another troglomorphic trait, like the so–called “false physogastry” in some cave beatles, like Leptodirini (Faille 2019).

Figure 11. 

Comparison of morphology among some species of Pseudochthonius from Brazil A Holotype Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. (troglobitic) (LES9601) and left chela (A1) B Pseudochthonius strinatii (troglobitic) (LES9391) and pedipalp detail (B1) C Pseudochthonius biseriatus (troglobitic) (LES9434) and pedipalp detail (C1) D Pseudochthonius sp. (epigean) (LES9629) and pedipalp detail (D1) (Images: A D. M. von Schimonsky; A1–C1 L.B.R Fernandes; D–D1 M. E. Bichuette).

In the pedipalpal chela of the three hypogean species, there is a slight decrease in the length and width of the hand and a significant increase in the length of the fixed finger. These pseudoscorpions have, respectively, the following length and width: hand (in mm) – 0.29/0.14 in P. ramalho sp. nov. (Fig. 11A1), 0.27/0.14 in P. strinatii (Fig. 11B1) and 0.26/0.13 in P. biseriatus (Fig. 11C1), and fixed finger (in mm) –0.59/0.04, 0.63/0.03 and 0.54/0.03, respectively. These values contrast with the ones observed in the epigean species Pseudochthonius sp.: hand (in mm) –0.31/0.19 and fixed finger (in mm) –0.49/0.04. Our observations corroborate that, for Chthoniidae, we cannot infer troglomorphism concerning to a single character (such as body pigmentation), but rather to a combination of traits (eyes/ocular structures, thinning of the cuticle, proportionally longer body, pigmentation, and ratio pedipalpal femur/carapace).

Conservation remarks

The Serra do Ramalho region is formed by several masses of carbonate rocks, thus enabling the occurrence of many karst features, including caves. Cave extensions range from hundreds of meters to more than 5 km, some exceeding 15 km (Rubbioli et al 2019). Another record of great importance is the great potential regarding subterranean fauna for both invertebrates and vertebrates (e.g., Baptista and Giupponi 2002; Pérez and Kury 2002; Bichuette and Trajano 2004; Bichuette and Trajano 2005; Trajano et al. 2009; Bichuette and Rizzato 2012). The issues related to the preservation of the subterranean environments in this karst region are directly influenced by the corresponding epigean environment. As the subterranean organisms use allochthonous organic matter, they rapidly suffer from the effects of any changes that occur to the epigean environment, e.g., deforestation and surface water pollution. Thus, studies demonstrate that the vast diversity of subterranean fauna is extremely important as an indicator of the health of the overall area (Bichuette et al. 2013; Gallão and Bichuette 2018). However, the Serra do Ramalho region is not yet inserted in any conservation units (e.g., State Park) and it is exposed to risks such as deforestation (e.g., wood for charcoal production), agriculture and mining projects due to the presence of rare metals (e.g., niobium) (Silva Junior and Campos 2016; Gallão and Bichuette 2018). The exploration and extraction of these metals can destroy entire caves and systems, leading to the extinction of isolated populations in these habitats (Culver 1986). This, coupled with the lack of laws that effectively protect caves in Brazil, leaves all this diversity of habitats under a high level of threat.

Pseudochthonius ramalho sp. nov. occurs exclusively in Gruna do Vandercir cave, being considered an endemic species to its type locality. By IUCN (International Union of Conservation of Nature) criteria, we classify this species as Critically Endangered (CR) according to criteria B1ab (iii) + B2ab (iii). This means that the species has a restricted geographical distribution, with an estimated occurrence of less than 100 km² (B1) and 10 km² (B2), and the severely fragmented population (a) lives in a few locations with the continued decline (b) in area, extension, and quality of habitat (iii). Therefore, effective protection measures must be taken so that there is no degradation of this environment, which is important in several aspects, and in this case, as the limited habitat of unique species that are very sensitive to disturbances.


This study was financed in part by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior – Brasil (CAPES) (Finance Code 001) as a scholarship to LA; PROTAX II project (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo / Fapesp 2016/50381–9 and CAPES 88887.159166/2017–00, project number 440646/2015–4), FAPESP (process 2008/05678-7 and 2010/08459–4) and Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) for research fellow (303715/2011–1, 308557/2014–0 and 310378/2017–6) and regular project (457413/2014–0) to MEB. We also thank: A.M.P.M. Dias, coordinator of Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia dos Hymenoptera Parasitoides da Região Sudeste Brasileira (INCT Hympar Sudeste – FAPESP 2008/57949–4 and CNPq 573802/2008–4) for making available the equipment and L.B.R. Fernandes for taking the SEM and stereomicroscope images and for image editing; to the members of Laboratório de Estudos Subterrâneos – LES, especially J. E. Gallão and N. Hattori for the collections of specimens and help in the field trips to Serra do Ramalho. To J. E. Gallão for critical reading and suggestions to the work. To A. Gambarini for his field assistance and the images of the new species and the cave habitat. To Grupo Bambuí de Pesquisas Espeleológicas (GBPE) for sharing information about Serra do Ramalho and to all support to MEB. To Institituo Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBIO) for collecting permit in caves (SISBIO 20165). We thank to Mark S. Harvey and János Novák for their valuable suggestions and comments. We are also grateful to the reviewers Giulio Gardini, André Lira, one anonymous reviewer and the subject editor Martina Pavlek.


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