12 October 2007

White “Bugs” of the Mud Room

08 October 2007 – Dipluran Den and Dead Snake Caves, El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico

A cave-adapted Dipluran in the Mud Room, Dipluran Den Cave.

Today we deployed traps in Dipluran Den and Dead Snake Caves. Pete and I stayed in Grants on Sunday night so we could meet and pick up Ara Kooser and Bennett Barthelemy. Ara is going to be pursuing a PhD under Diana Northup at University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

This morning after grabbing breakfast at El Cafecito (definitely the best place to eat breakfast in Grants), and running a plethora of errands, we headed for the caves.

Dipluran Den is a cave quite close to the parking lot and is perhaps the most heavily visited cave on the monument. We needed to sample this to determine what is within the cave to better aid the monument in managing for this resource. We conducted our time constrained searches at each sampling station and didn’t find anything until we reached the “Mud Room” at the back of the cave. Here, is perhaps the only cave-adapted organisms on the monument. These tiny Diplurans are subjected to a fairly consistent regimen of disturbance from humans. I don’t expect the back of the cave receives as many visitors as the front half of the cave. Nonetheless, the “Mud Room” was covered with foot prints and scarring on the mud surface.

In addition to deploying baited pitfall traps using a systematic sampling design throughout the cave, we are also conducting time-constrained searches at each sample station. This is an image of me searching for invertebrates. Image Credit: Bennett Barthelemy.

This is the cave-adapted dipluran. This critter was originally identified by Drs. Cal Welbourn and Diana Northup during their surveys in the early 1990s. This is most likely a new species and possible a new genera. At the time specimens were collected, there was no taxonomist available to properly identify this organism.

Once we completed trapping at Dipluran Den, we went to Dead Snake Cave to deploy traps. I’m calling this cave “Dead Snake” as a synonym for the actual cave name because some unenlightened visitor to the chose to kill a gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) within the cave. It is illegal to kill any animal on National Park Service lands.

Image: The vista on our approach to Dead Snake Cave.

At the entrance of this cave, we found evidence of pack rat. We also determined this cave was once heavily used by bats. We found deflated guano almost throughout the entire length of this cave. However, aside from night roosting (probably Townsend's Big-eared Bat Corynorhinus townsendii), there was no new evidence of bat roosting activity.

Ara and Pete (from left to right) gearing up to enter Dead Snake Cave.

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