Crawling Creatures of the Cave

May 18, 2011 Posted by: Ranger Steve

The excitement of discovery didn't end with Absalom Lehman, or even with the explorers in the 1950s who found the Gypsum Annex, a previously unknown room in the

The well-known cave dwellers are various species of bats, bushy-tailed woodrats (better known as packrats), and cave crickets. All of these animals are very comfortable in the caves, but also spend much of their lives feeding outside.

During the last century, small animals have shown a capacity for life not previously known. Small cave dwellers spend their entire life-cycles in the depths without ever seeing the light of day. In fact, they perish in any environment outside of caves. Collectively, these organisms are called troglobites, meaning that they are entirely dependent on a cave habitat.

Sometime in the 1930s, an arachnid with long antennae resembling those of scorpions was discovered living within Lehman Caves. Known as the Great Basin Cave Pseudoscorpion, it has remained a source of continuous study since. While it survives in some of the Park's other caves, it has not been found anywhere outside of Great Basin National Park.

In more recent years, the discovery of several other troglobites has expanded our knowledge of the underground world at Great Basin. For example, in 2006, the pure white Great Basin Cave Millipede was found.  Like the pseudoscorpion, it is endemic. Most recently, just this year, park biologists have announced the finding of a previous unknown shrimp-like creature swimming in a pool within Model Cave, the most biologically diverse cave in the Park, not far from the Lehman Caves. It now bears the name of White Pine Amphipod.

People often ask what these creatures eat inside the cave. The food chain is alive and well, as organic nutrients constantly make their way into the cave by way of bats, rats, insects, and other organisms that come and go within the cave.

All this goes to show that an old adage proves true here, just as about everywhere else: As soon as one thinks he/she has seen everything under the sun (or the cave ceiling), something new comes along. You can read more about these fascinating animals of the dark on our website under "Nature and Science", and follow the links for more reading at other sites. While you may not see these creatures on your next cave tour, with the exacting protections of the National Park Service, these and other undiscovered denizens will continue to share their secret world with you.

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Last updated: April 20, 2013

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