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Missouri Cave Life

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 4, 2010

belfries, but some bat species are almost always associated with cave habitats, either roosting singly or in incredibly dense clusters with several hundred bats per square foot of the cluster. Some species live in caves only during the summer, some are found hibernating in caves only during the winter and some live in caves all year.

Bats often roost in the same spots, and their guano accumulates below them. Guano piles of gray bats are sometimes several feet high and several yards in circumference. Regardless of the size of the pile, the guano provides a nutrient source for bacteria and fungi and the small animals that feed on those decomposers.

A student once said "...in Missouri, a cave is a hole in the ground filled with mud." Many Missouri caves also contain streams and pools. Salamanders move from the water to the cave floor and cave walls. Another amphibian--the pickerel frog--overwinters in caves.

Other organisms including salamander juveniles, several species of aquatic isopods, small flatworms called planaria, crayfish, aquatic snails, fish and amphipods are restricted to the water.

Because food is so limited in most cave systems, all sources of nutrients are normally taken advantage of by the cave community. In fact, caves that have large bat populations tend to have larger numbers of other animals because the bat guano provides an important nutrient. Caves that often have leaf litter and twigs blowing in through entrances or flushing in through cracks in the cave ceiling also will have higher populations of cave organisms.

The occasional log, guano pile or raccoon scat can be a nutrient-magnet for cave organisms, such as beetles, millipedes, terrestrial isopods and cave salamanders.

Some of the animals we see deeper in the cave look different from those we saw earlier. They are often white or pink and blind. These cave-adapted species have been isolated from the surface environment for many thousands of years. They have lost the ability to produce pigment in their skin or outer layers of the body, as well as the ability to produce eyes.

Cave-adapted species often have other intriguing differences in their biology. Sensory structures (other than eyes) often are more developed than similar species that have never colonized cave habitats. Often their antennae and legs are much longer than their above-ground counterparts and their metabolism seems more adapted to living in a nutrient-poor environment.

Cave Ethics

Caves are often not cleansed, regenerated or replaced when damaged. Laws protect

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