NCB Naturalis

My first tropical cave

Posted on 17-03-2015 by Iva Njunjic

Even though I am an experienced caver, being in the tropics and exploring a tropical cave for the first time was extremely exciting and definitely an unforgettable experience for me. 

So far I have only explored caves in the temperate zone, on Dinaric Mountains, which are considered to be a major biodiversity hotspot for subterranean fauna in the world. Today, for the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to explore a tropical cave (Gua Laing cave) and compare cave fauna in temperate and tropical region

 So, for all of you who were impatiently waiting for the continuation of Gua Laing saga, here it is! 

Our little, but efficient team, is finally complete- Alex Pigot and I joined Menno Schilthuizen and Kasper Hendriks in Kota Kinabalu. During this field work I will  gather data on the richness and endemism of cave beetles and snails. Today's task was to find Gua Laing cave, the one Menno unsuccessfully searched for a couple of days ago.

This time we were not following his GPS coordinates, but our instincts which guided us for several hours up and down through dense tropical rain forest. Our battle with vegetation was not a fair fight because we were outnumbered by trees and undergrowth who were often capturing our legs and puncturing our skin with tiny spikes. During this hard time Menno was everything to us- our supervisor, our guide and our spiritual leader. We were all amazed by his incredible skill to move through the tropical rainforest as easily and elegantly as Tarzan! :) Just when we thought that the battle was lost and that we will go home disappointed because we didn't find the cave, our backup suddenly appeared on the dusty road. It was a local farmer driving a motorbike and carrying a bundle of cinnamon on his back who kindly agreed to guide us to the cave, along what in the end proved to be an extremely gentle and clear forest track. I think our earlier wild snail chase with Menno had just been his way of trying to test our metal! Finally, the entrance of Gua Laing was right in front of us. 


The cave is about 50m long but there is a possibility that it could be longer. Since we were focused on collecting fauna, we didn't explore all passages. We discovered a bat colony which was so numerous that we had the impression of a strong wind blowing through the cave when the bats started to fly around us. The smell of guano was very strong and there was a large community of animals composed of springtails, rove beetles and cockroaches feeding on it. We put traps in the deepest part of the cave in order to catch some beetles that we could potentially have overlooked while collecting cave fauna. For the squeamish amongst you, you may want to look away now! On the walls, we noticed two rather startlingly creatures -  giant spider and centipede Scutigera sp. 


In temperate regions these animals never reach this size. However, they are trogloxenes, animals who are not strictly tied to a cave and who could also survive outside the subterranean environment. Animals who permanently live in caves and can't survive outside are troglobites. Temperate caves contain far more troglobites than tropical caves because tropical caves are of relatively young age since they are eroded at a much faster rate under humid tropical conditions.

Tomorrow, we are heading to Kinabatangan, Sabah's longest river, where we will continue our research, so watch this space if you want to read about ours next adventures and discoveries!

Posted in Borneo expeditions | Tagged expeditions, Borneo,