The Strange, Beautiful Animals That Live In Caves
A few meters beneath ground, where temperature is constant but humidity is high and food is scarce, is a placed filled with unexpectedly flourishing biodiversity. Mostly hidden within an inaccessible labyrinth of small cracks and voids in limestone rocks, this habitat is invisible and unknown to most. The karst caves, being a very small fraction of these voids large enough for a human to enter, provide a rare opportunity to study these highly specialized forms of life.
In a world without light, eyes and colors become useless so the underground life here has enhanced other senses to overcome this deficit. This high specialization to the underground environment limits these species to very tiny regions (confined by rivers), creating an incredible high level of endemism ― most of these species are found underground in only a single mountain or sometimes in a single cave.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is considered one of the world's underground biodiversity hotspots, with outstanding numbers of surface and underground species. Even though this biodiversity richness is widely recognized, it remains mostly understudied, underestimated and unprotected in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Through the project "Protection of the Underground Biodiversity in the Neretva River Catchment Area", speleologists from the Center for Karst and Speleology (CKS), supported by a grant from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) through its investment in the Mediterranean Basin Hotspot, helped to cast a light on some of the strange and beautiful animals from the world of caves.
The project also provided capacity building opportunities to train local experts and raise awareness among the general public, tourists, the scientific community and government officials on the importance of protecting the underground biodiversity.
Photos: © Centar za krš i speleologiju/photo by Simone Milanolo