As humans were evolving in the plains of Africa, a different kind of evolution was taking place in Romania. The insectoid residents of Movile Cave were cut off from the outside world more than five million years ago, and that made for a very unusual ecosystem when the cave was discovered and opened up in the late 1980s. Movile Cave is believed to be the most isolated ecosystem in the world, and scientists are only just beginning to unravel its secrets.
A New World Discovered
Scientists have discovered an entire new world hidden in a cave in Mangalia, Constanta County, Romania. The cave houses 48 unique species that have been isolated for a whopping 5.5 million years.
The Movile Cave
The Movile Cave is very hard to access for scientists. They have to go down a huge shaft, and navigate through a labyrinth of tunnels before they can access the cave.
The Movile Cave was discovered in 1986 by Cristian Lascu. Because of its delicate ecosystem, less than 100 people have ever been allowed inside.
A Real Adventure
It may seem like an adventure, but it’s also quite dangerous, as one explorer admits: “To enter, you must first lower yourself by rope 20 m down a narrow shaft dug into the ground,” writes the BBC. “You must then climb down through narrow limestone tunnels coasted in an ocher clay, in pitch darkness and temperatures of 25 ℃. These paths eventually open out into a central cavern containing a lake.”
There’s not much oxygen down there, so it’s hard for humans to function. But there are over 30 species that we’ve never seen before, and they’re doing just fine. In fact, they’re thriving.
There are many species down there that we’ve seen before, such as leeches, spiders, water scorpions, and other common insects. But there’s also a few species we’ve never seen before.
One explorer noted “The pool of warm, sulfide water stinks of rotting eggs or burnt rubber when you disturb it as hydrogen sulfide is given off.” Some of the animals they found have lost their eyes and pigmentation many years ago.
Because of the lack of sunlight, the ecosystem has evolved to survive without sunlight or photosynthesis. Instead, the organisms rely on chemo-synthesis.
How They Survive
So how do these creatures survive? According to one researcher: “They [bacteria] get the energy needed… from chemical reactions: the key ones being the oxidation of sulfide and similar sulfur ions into sulfuric acid, or the oxidation of ammonium found in the groundwater to nitrate.”
The bacteria forms a mat on the walls of the cave, which the other organisms then feed upon. This feeds the entire ecosystem.
Many More Secrets
There are so many more secrets left to discover from this amazing cave. Scientists are just beginning to scratch the surface.
Important Questions Answered
Scientists hope that by studying this cave, they will be able to learn more about how life on Earth began. There might some very important questions answered in this cave…