16 October 2007

Ty-vex, Vanishing Bats and the First Snow on the Malpais

14 October 2007 – Guano Grotto Cave, El Malpais NM, New Mexico (end of 2007 fieldwork)

Image: In front of Guano Grotto Cave and ready to defy the sign! Actually, we do have Monument permission to work in this cave.

Today, we had but one cave on our agenda. We must return to Guano Grotto Cave, conduct our time constrained searches, search for arthropods opportunistically as we move through the cave, process animals within traps and then pull traps.

Image: All the gear necessary for three people to work in a guano-laden cave environment.

From the image above, it is clear we were much more prepared to deal with the extensive guano, the permeating smell and the fungal spores. We had the correct respirators, Ty-vex suits and latex booties to create somewhat of a barrier between us and the guano and possible fungal spores associated with histoplasmosis.

Unfortunately, Ara was not able to accompany us during this trip to Guano Grotto. He could not get his respirator mask to seal on his face. So, erring on the side of caution, he remained topside while Pete, completed the work at this cave.

However, Ara’s time topside proved rewarding on a different level. He was able to witness the first snow of the season on El Malpais. We had watched the clouds set up on the Divide all morning. I was waiting to see if they would produce any precipitation, and they did. Unfortunately, Pete and I were below ground when this event too place.

Image: We encountered at least five of these beetles on the rocks below a skylight entrance in Guano Grotto Cave.

When we went through the section containing bats, we realized the majority of the Mexican free-tailed bat colony had left. They began their migration between 10 and 14 October. We did hear at least a few dozen bats from within several rock cracks overhead. However, we were unable to get a visual on their exact location. I suspect these bats did not build their energy reserves sufficiently to weather the long migratory trip south. So, they would remain at the cave. Unfortunately, these bats will not make it through the winter. They will likely continue to forage until the snow sets in, and then, if they do not migrate, they will starve to death. Death is part of life, and this is, indeed, part of the process. Those “fit enough” will likely survive the migration to the tropics, while those less than “fit enough” will not.

Image: Immature/ juvenile female cricket with missing hind leg. I can tell this is an immature/ juvenile female cricket by its short ovipositor (the middle appendage protruding from between the two cerci on the cricket's tail end). The ovipositor on an adult female is much longer. This cricket will likely get it's leg back when it molts. Once crickets are adults, they do not molt and once a leg is lost, it cannot be regrown.

Well, we did conduct our time-constrained searches, and pulled all our traps and sensors. Our efforts were quite successful. We encountered and collected psocopterans, cave crickets, rhadine beetles, Eleodes beetles, fungus gnats and several spiders.

Image: Mummified Mexican free-tailed bat.

Interestingly, throughout the entire survey of eight caves, we did not observe any pseudoscorpions. There were a few caves where I felt confident we would encounter them. However, we had no such luck.

I will be returning to the Monument between early August and September of next year to complete the survey. So, perhaps we will find pseudoscorpions. Also, we will continue our search for water bears. There are two additional caves where I plan to sample upon my return.

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