An Underground Adventure

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 9, 2010

explained that water moving through the limestone dissolved the rock and created Missouri’s caves. I shined my light into the nearest pool so the scouts could see the grotto salamanders. These nearly white, 3-inch long, blind salamanders only live in shallow pools with clear, flowing water in the darkest parts of Missouri caves.

I raised my flashlight up to the cave wall to show the scouts the flowstone, where oozing water left smooth, almost translucent mineral deposits that looked like clear marble. A spot on the flowstone was darker than the rest, and I explained that years ago someone had stepped on this area with muddy boots. The mud was encased in new flowstone and will be a part of the cave forever.

The scouts seemed to understand how their visit to this cave could cause lasting damage if they were not careful.

Next we moved to the area where Indiana and gray bats roosted on the cave ceiling. Almost all of the bats were gone, but I pointed out the large dark spots where they had hung upside-down by their feet. Their urine stained the rock on the cave ceiling a very dark brown.

I then moved my flashlight beam to the ground and pointed out a pile of bat droppings, called guano, and we talked about how the size of the guano pile could be measured in order to estimate the number of bats.

There were web worms on the guano and other unusual, nearly white insects feeding on the remains of a few bats. There were no takers when I asked for a volunteer to touch the guano and report back to the others on what it felt like.

Deeper in the cave, the scouts learned how stalactites and stalagmites were mineral deposits left behind by dripping water. I explained how it took thousands of years for these formations to grow, and that they are very delicate and should not be touched.

We started exploring other arms of the cave and saw several more pools with grotto salamanders. We found white millipedes feeding on tree leaves that had been washed into the cave. The cave arthropods, or insects, were mostly white, because they did not need pigment to protect them from the sun or conceal them from predators.

I eventually noticed that the water was getting much deeper in the cave and seemed to be flowing at a more rapid pace. This was strange, so

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