Our Great Cave Trek of 2013 began in Ozark, Missouri, at Smallin Civil War Cave. Smallin Cave and its close neighbor, Fielden Cave, have been important shelters for Native Americans and settlers in their past. The tree, in the photo to the right, is a marker tree, bent by Native Americans to mark the stream and the entrance to the cave. These are currently, privately owned show caves and are open for public tours including a wonderful gift shop and a crawl maze that is a ton of fun to weave through. Smallin's entrance, shown above, is believed to be the second largest cave opening in the state of Missouri at 60 feet tall and 120 feet across. The cave was first documented by the famous explorer Henry R. Schoolcraft in 1818 and it boasts beautiful rimstone pools and a dramatic flowstone waterfall. Fielden Cave is much smaller but has many troglophilic (cave loving) critters that can be seen in the small pool at the end of the passage. Many ancient arrowheads and other artifacts have also been discovered while excavating Fielden's entrance.
Our group went to the cave seeking one of it's most unique inhabitants, the Bristly Cave Crayfish, Cambarus setosus. This species is special because it is truly cave-adapted. Aquatic cave-adapted species are called stygobytes, meaning they lack pigment and eyesight. In fact, this species lacks eyes and eye stalks completely. We carefully took measurements of the crayfish and then released them back into the stream in the cave.
Species that are not cave-adapted also turn up in caves, these are called accidentals. On a previous trip to this cave system, we found a pair of pickerel frogs that wound up in the pool in Fielden Cave. Pickerel frogs are not uncommon to run across in caves. Most other species lacking cave adaptations oftentimes perish in cave environments if they do not find their way out. They do not lose their lives in vain; nutrients from their bodies are invaluable to the cave environment and the species that dwell in it.
Since my blog is titled, "Ento the Woods," I feel obligated to include the insects we spotted, haha. The longer insect, bottom left photo, is a cave cricket, Ceuthophilus gracilipes. These guys are troglophilic and somewhat cave-adapted. They have elongated antennae to guide them around their dark environment. The insect on the left is a Heleomyzid fly, family Heleomyzidae. I'm not very familiar with this family of flies, but from what I understand, they feed on decaying plant, animal, and fungal matter within the cave and are also troglophilic.