Underwater Wakulla- June 7, 2018

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Creatures We Encounter Underground By GREGG STANTON

Creatures We Encounter Underground

While under water, underground, we encounter many creatures, besides people. They are divided into two groups: those associated with open water with daylight, and those dedicated to the complete darkness of caves. They can often (not always) be identified by those that have eyes and those that do not. The latter, we call Troglofidic.

One day, as I climbed up the rocks and out of a cave at Peacock Springs State Park, my hand landed on the serrated back of a large lizard like creature. It did not move, but I did! I reversed my path and came out at another location. The alligator seemed none the less concerned for my transgression. Alligators move from sink hole to sink hole in search of fish to eat. They are a curious creature. I once encountered one while conducting check out dives at Wakulla Springs State Park. It observed us throughout our dives from the ledge next to Henry's Pole, and we kept our distance as well.

Snakes are often found at the surface waters of our popular sink holes and springs, but seldom back in the cavern or cave. We do find skeletal remains of lost turtles and fish, that could not find their way out. Many fish have learned to follow divers back in search of easy prey made obvious by the diver's light. But when the light leaves and they stay, they starve. I have seen the skeleton of a Dugong, a primitive relative of the Manatee, that existed a long time ago.  Its fossilized bones were protruding from the wall of a cave. Of course there are many disarticulated bones of extinct vertebrates in the 200 ft deep first room at Wakulla Springs that await study, a treasure trove for some future museum.

Anguilla eels are often found in caverns in north Florida. They come from the Sargasso Sea, swimming up rivers and occupy ledges and caves. In Europe, they are considered a delicacy, but here a novelty to feed and photograph. Catfish occupy this same environment, but penetrate the black cave. Catfish have barbell sensors that serve as eyes to assist in the capture of Troglofidic creatures. There is a catfish hotel in the Devil's Ear cavern at Ginnie Springs. Last week I counted over 100 swarming about. Similar assemblies can be seen at Manatee State Park. These creatures all have eyes. There are rare cave fish (Lucifuga) that have lost their eyes, but I have only found them in the Bahamas.

 Crayfish with eyes can be found in the cavern of Jackson Blue and the Merritt's Mill Pond in Marianna, Florida. They are colorful, and often collected for a popular Louisiana dish. But further in our caves we have a blind Crawfish, completely white, without eyes, that can get up to 6 inches in length. They live on the ceilings of caves and are knocked off by the bubbles of passing divers. They feed on cave amphipods, also blind, that feed on the organics that are flushed into the cave during storms. I suspect the blind crawfish are territorial as I seldom see them as anything other than single individuals. 

The Florida Bind Newt is a salamander that lives in selected caves. It is white, standing out against a darker mud floor, and has the classic gills protruding from it's head. They swim when disturbed. I noticed that the heat of a strong cave light will disturb them. They can be found in several caves of the Merritt's Mill Pond. There are many more creatures to be discovered and described right under our feet. Visit TAMUG.edu/CaveBiology/ for a broader perspective of underwater cave creatures.