Living in a cave full-time requires some extreme survival skills, which is why many cave-dwelling organisms are called extremophiles. Extremophiles are important to Earth Science, because they hold many clues to early life.
The strange names of cave dwellers doesn’t stop with extremophiles … Consider troglobites, troglophiles and trogloxenes!
Colorado is home to more than 15 species of bats, and most can be spotted in the area around our cave. Some bats use caves to give birth and care for their young in the summer. In winter, some bats hibernate, while others migrate. When bats are disturbed in their preferred environment, they often leave for less-protected environments, which contributes to the current decline of bat populations worldwide.
Bats tend to be very misunderstood: they’re not blind, aggressive or prone to flying into your hair. Bats contribute to a healthy ecosystem, because they help keep insects under control, pollinate plants, and are responsible for most new seed dispersal in the rain forests. Most bats in the western United States feed almost exclusively on insects — in fact, bats are the only major predator of night-flying insects. Bats typically eat more than 50% of their body weight in insects each night.
Bats are gentle, intelligent mammals, and the perception of bats as carriers of rabies and other diseases is greatly exaggerated. Fewer than 40 people in the United States are known to have contracted rabies from bats over the past 40 years. Far more people are killed by dog attacks, bee stings or lightening strikes.
Cave of the Winds is proud to promote the benefits of bats and is a supporter of Bat Conservation International. We encourage people to attract bats by placing bat houses in their yards to take advantage of their insect-eating habits.
Insects are common at Cave of the Winds, although they can be hard to spot. Our most famous insect is called the hyperchills benetti. It weaves its web into a shape similar to lampshades (hence its more common name, the Lampshade Spider). One of the most interesting things about them is that they have two sets of lungs that allow them to breathe in oxygen-deprived environments — perfect for caves!
The petite ringtail is a favorite at Cave of the Winds, although it’s nocturnal and good at hiding, so we’re honored with sightings only so often. The ringtail, or basarscus astutus, is a small, slender animal with a long, bushy tail that has black and white bands (thus the “ring tail”). The ringtail is a skilled climber, which is a great skill for cave living. The ringtail eats a varied diet of small mammals, birds, lizards, frogs, insects, snakes, cactus fruits and other plants. It communicates with a bark, scream, snarl, whistle and chitter, although when under stress, they will give an undulating howl.
A host of other native animals use caves when needed. When caving in our area, it’s possible to see large and small birds, including swallows, falcons, hawks, and an occasional eagle. It’s also possible to run into mammals of all sizes — mice, deer, mountain lions and bears. If you see wildlife, it’s always best to keep your distance. For mountain lions, the rule is to make yourself bigger: raise your arms, hold up anything to make yourself appear threatening and impressive. For bears, use the opposite rule: make yourself small and non-threatening. Avoid eye contact with the bear, as this is seen as a challenge. These large animals tend to keep their distance, so more than likely, your visit to our beautiful Rocky Mountain Front Range will be safe and awe-inspiring.