Scientists Uncover Array of Strange Animals in Cave That Has Been Sealed Off for 5.5 Million Years
Scientists have found a whole new world hidden inside a cave that has been sealed for about 5.5 million years. The cave and its residents could provide scientists with answers to questions about global warming and the formation of life on Earth.
These interesting creatures call the Movile Cave in Romania their home. It was sealed when a sheet of limestone collapsed onto the opening. The cave wasn't discovered until 1986 when Romanian workers were testing the surrounding ground as a potential power plant site.
Access to the cave is restricted. Less than 100 people have entered it. One of the reasons for this is that the journey itself is dangerous. BBC explained:
To enter, you must first lower yourself by rope 20m down a narrow shaft dug into the ground. The only light is from your helmet, which bounces around the walls as you descend. You must then climb down through narrow limestone tunnels coated in an ochre clay, in pitch darkness and temperatures of 25 °C. These paths eventually open out into a central cavern containing a lake.
Microbiologist Rich Boden, who is currently at the University of Plymouth in the UK, made the journey in 2010.
"It's pretty warm, and very humid so it feels warmer than it is, and of course with a boiler suit and helmet on that doesn't help," Boden told BBC.
"The pool of warm, sulphidic water stinks of rotting eggs or burnt rubber when you disturb it as hydrogen sulphide is given off."
The environment inside Movile Cave is very inhospitable. The lake gives off carbon dioxide as well as hydrogen sulphide, BBC reported. The air inside the cave contains 10 percent oxygen compared to the 20 percent we are used to. Visitors can only stay down there for 5 or 6 hours before their "kidneys pack in."
Due to this unusual environment, the animals that live in the cave have developed interesting traits. Thirty-three of the 48 species identified are unique to the cave.
Many of the species have no eyes because they have no need for them in the dark cave. Most of them are translucent, making them look particularly strange. And many have adapted to grow extra-long antennas or other appendages to find their way in the darkness, according to BBC.
Other mysteries surround the cave as well. One spider species, scientists say, is related to a spider found in the Canary Islands some 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) away. The cave also received no radiation from the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986, even though soils and lakes surrounding the cave had traces of radiation, according to a 1996 study. From that study, scientists have determined the water in the lake doesn't come from above, like most caves, but from below.
Scientists are also interested in studying bacteria in the cave and its ability to oxidize methane and carbon dioxide, which are two greenhouse gases that contribute the most to global warming. Researchers hope by studying the bacteria they can figure out a way to remove the gases from the atmosphere.