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Movile Cave’s Hidden Ecosystem

Near the black sea in Romania is a cave unlike any we’ve ever discovered. For over 5.5 million years it’s been sealed off from the outside world, left completely alone. In 1986 a prospecting crew accidently drilled into it from above and at long last its isolation was finally broken. The newly unearthed cavern was named Movile Cave and it’s like no other place on Earth.

Being cut off from the rest of the world lead to the independent evolution of its residents. Scientists have discovered 48 native creatures; 33 of which are completely unique to Movile Cave. Leeches, spiders, and scorpions make up the bulk of the cave’s ecosystem (not counting bacteria). But Movile’s prolonged isolation meant it had to have been completely sealed off. Most caves allow access to underwater streams and natural moisture but Movile Cave has a think layer of clay right above it preventing water and food from seeping in from above. Without these precious resources, life had to find new ways to survive. Because there’s no sunlight in the cave photosynthesis is impossible. Bacteria here have evolved to use chemosynthesis instead, a process of breaking down chemicals like ammoniums and sulfides into organic compounds that can support larger and more complex life. The absence of light has also affected eyesight and pigmentation. Natural camouflage as we know it is irreverent in a pitch black environment so most of the creatures here lack pigmentation and are at least somewhat transparent.

Microbiologist Rich Boden had this to say about the creatures he studied in the cave:

“They are completely adapted to their surroundings, which means they have no eyes as they would never need to use them. However, they have bigger antennae and bigger legs than similar species.

I thought it was odd that the spiders still spin webs down there because there are no flies, but then you see there are these little insects called spring-tails, which bounce into the air, and are caught by the webs. It really is the stuff of science fiction.”

To make matters even stranger the Chernobyl meltdown of 1986 spread radioactive metal particulates into the soil and waterways surrounding the Movile Cave area, but studies show that no radiation ever made it into the cave. I suppose this means it would make a decent fallout shelter (if the air wasn’t poisonous to humans that is.) The air in Movile is not what you’d call hospitable. The intense concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane make the cave very unfriendly to unprotected humans.

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That hungry guy on the right is a waterscorpion but don’t worry, he isn’t venomous.

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Here’s a top-down view.

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Up close they aren’t much prettier.

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Say hello to the Pseudoscorpion who is also not venomous.

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Hey look a centipede! Without eyes…and sporting extra long antennae . Creepy.

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And these guys are albino woodlice. They’d almost be cute if they weren’t, you know, lice.

Nature may sometimes be weird but it’s always fascinating. Life can adapt to just about any circumstances here on Earth. Still, I think it’s best if we just leave these creatures alone, after all they’ve done well enough without our interference for millions of years.

For more information on Movile Cave check out the video below.

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