Monday, February 22, 2010

The Wonders of Caves

Last week I had received an invitation to go to the longest cave system in the world: Mammoth Cave in Kentucky (too bad it's for after spring break). The invite was not for one of those dismal tours (sorry, I'm biased now) where you walk along man-made paths and view the small, tight, and dark places you cannot go, but it was for the Wild Cave Tour. I went on the Wild Cave Tour two times last summer. It was, hands down, the most amazing thing I have ever done (I'm still upset that I'm not able to go again in March...). This tour, unlike the others, actually takes you into the depths of the cave. The tour guide takes you on a 6 hour, 6 mile tour through the depths of the cave. Luckily they supply you with hard hats, lights, and knee pads because for the majority of the tour, you are on your hands and knees crawling through tight spaces, dirt, and water. However, if you are claustrophobic or have a fear of heights, I would not recommend it.

Caves are such an interesting part of our world. Some can be totally dry and some can be totally full of water. Some also have streams, some have large rooms, and some are just tunnels. They are certainly fascinating. In a way, I like to think of them as the universe we are able to explore. They house many different types of creatures (although I'm not fond of the large cave crickets) that can be sorted into three different categories. The three categories are Troglobites (permanent cave dwellers), Troglophiles (live in the cave and on the surface), and Trogloxenes (cave visitors). There are some Troglobites such as the Calcina cloughensis (a spider), that are unique to only one cave in the world (1). Certain millipedes and spiders can be classified as Troglophiles. More recently, bats (which are Trogloxenes) have been falling victim to a vicious killer known as the white-nose syndrome. This gives bats white noses, as the name suggests. The fungus actually makes them behave abnormally. It has been said that they hunt during the cold winter and fly during the day. This is when most of their food is not available, thus probably being a cause for death. This disease is actually threatening bats; when the disease hits, it strikes hard. Approximately 90-100 percent of the bats that are in hibernation with this disease die (2).

You may be wondering if going into the depths of the cave can actually be bad for the creatures. Well, in reality it is. However, the tour guides do a wonderful job of letting people know where to walk and where not to walk. For example, there was some water we were able to walk through, but they did take us near water that was not allowed to be touched due to the unique species living in the water. The guides even ask people who may have been to other caves that have the white-nose syndrome to not go on the trip. As of now, Mammoth Cave bats do not have the syndrome that is killing their relatives. I think that in situations like that, people respect where they are. The guides also love the environment they are in and I think that if their system did not work, they probably would not still have the tour. It normally seems like people don't have respect for their environment until they see it hands-on.

Anyway, I found a cave diving video that I think is really cool. I want to see the entire episode!  If you're a BBC fan, I think you'll enjoy it.

If you want more information on the biology of caves or the white-nose syndrome, check out:



1 comment:

  1. I like how you have used a personal experience for the basis of this post. That makes it really interesting. Do you have some good pictures from your own caveing? Those would be great to see in a future post.