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Holsinger Gets Call to Identify Ohio Cave-Water Crustacean

When unusual little creatures were found in streams inside sandstone caves near Akron, Ohio, recently, natural resources officials in that state did what people all over the world have been doing for years, they rang up Old Dominion University biospeleologist John Holsinger.

As one of the world's top authorities on the blind crustaceans that live in streams and pools inside caves, Holsinger has sat in judgment hundreds of times on specimen that may or may not be new species.

From his initial inspection of samples, he believes the Ohio discovery may, indeed, be a new species of amphipod. Additional samples will be shipped to Virginia in a few months to enable Holsinger to confirm his initial identification. A story about Holsinger's sought-after expertise appeared in the Akron Beacon-Journal newspaper on Feb. 20.

An emeritus professor of biology at ODU, Holsinger has had flatland ODU as his base since 1968 as he built a reputation around the globe for his highland work in caves and karst. (Karst is the geological term for the irregular limestone terrain containing sinkholes, underground streams and caves.)

He is best known for painstaking research to document different species of subterranean amphipod crustaceans, specimens of which float in alcohol in hundreds of jars in his laboratory. The creatures resemble shrimp or crayfish. A number of cave-adapted invertebrate animals, including species of amphipods, isopods, spiders and snails, have the official Latin name holsingeri. Even two genera, an amphipod and a snail, are named Holsingerius and Holsingeria, respectively.

"I'm still having fun working on subterranean amphipods after all these years," Holsinger said. "And yes, my shelves are full of jars with undescribed new species, estimated at 50-plus."

His colleagues in the National Speleological Society (NSS) paid tribute to Holsinger's more than four decades of research by organizing a special symposium honoring him and his work at the society's 2007 convention.

Holsinger is a long-time member of the Virginia Cave Board. He was reappointed to a new four-year term in 2008 by Gov. Timothy Kaine.

This article was posted on: February 24, 2009

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