Dr. Rajaei wasn’t sure if the shrimp was a new species and asked Martin Schwentner, the paper’s lead author and researcher at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, who studies similar crustaceans in Australia, to take a look. When Dr. Schwentner compared the genetics and morphology of the shrimp with the four known species of the genus Phallocryptus, he found that the shrimp is a new fifth species. The morphological differences between the new shrimp and a Mongolian fairy shrimp, Phallocryptus tserensodnomi were minor: a longer frontal organ and more curvilinear antennae.
According to Dr. Alonso, the researchers did not clearly differentiate between the morphology of the new species and that of P. tserensodnomi in Mongolia and P. spinosa in other parts of Iran. Alireza Sari, a crustacean biologist at the University of Tehran, suggested that some of his earlier discoveries of P. spinosa might have been P. fahimii.
Although the shrimp survive well in the desert, it is an achievement for everyone to spend 10 days in the Lut. Temperatures range from 122 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to 35 degrees Fahrenheit at night. The team only had enough water to drink and wash their hands once or twice a day. Whirling dust storms often cocooned them in their cars for hours and even broke multiple cameras when tiny grains of dust scratched the lenses. “The first five days the Lut is beautiful and exciting,” said Dr. Rajaei. “Then it’s annoying.”
One night a dust storm unexpectedly ended in fat raindrops. “We couldn’t help it, we started dancing,” he said. “I felt like I lost part of my soul in the desert.”
The researchers named the new fairy shrimp after Dr. Fahimi, the herpetologist on the expedition, who was killed in a plane crash in Iran a year after the trip to Lut. When researchers began publishing their results from the expedition, they also brought Dr. Fahimi in the name of a spider, Oecobius fahimii, and a snake.
The lake that P. fahimii swam in, once the size of two swimming pools, has now evaporated and no one can be sure when it will fill up again. Until then, the eggs lurk in the sand.
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