By Dave Wilson
Once again Tom Morris led a group of intrepid hikers into the unknown. This time 15 willing victims descended into the Harvey Sharron Bat Cave located midway between Newberry and High Springs. Since it is fenced off to keep both visitors and the cave out of harm’s way, we had to stop at Santa Fe College to pick up a key to the gate. While the cave is small, we were scheduled at the same time with a bunch of local school kids on an adventure into the outdoors, or should we say indoors. Fortunately, the kids took off to a more far flung part of the cave so we had the place to ourselves.
Before we entered the cave, Tom and geologist Jim Gross gave a sequence of mini lectures on the topography, karst landscapes, geological history, and geomorphology of the region. For example, this cave is located on a flat limestone upland plain.
The entrance consists of a spiral metal staircase implanted in a large solution tube that descends 30 feet down into an abyss. An unusual feature of the cave is the presence of several cylindrical solution tubes which ascend from the “lake room” straight up to the surface. These tubes allow a bit of light to penetrate into an otherwise totally dark environment. After entering the cave, Tom discussed the solution chemistry, the movement of water, and the inhabitants. In the middle of this discussion, someone noticed several eastern pipistrelle bats attached to the ceiling. These adorable little creatures are the smallest of Florida’s bats. While we did our best not to disturb them, I am sure they would have preferred we were somewhere else. Here is a bit more information. (This clip was extracted from a Wikipedia article.)
When the pipistrelles capture food they use the tail or wing membranes to restrain their prey. Some insects are even captured by their tail membrane. It forms a pouch and the bat bends its head in to grab the insect with its teeth. They can catch insects as often as every 2 seconds and increase their mass by 25% in only half an hour.
While the extent of the hike was only a few hundred yards, we enjoyed mud, darkness, and waist deep water. Speaking of darkness, at one point we turned off all our lights to experience true and total darkness. To amplify the effect, we also quit talking for a few minutes. This gimmick allows you to become connected with your internal machinery such as the sound of your blood pulsing in our ears. One member of our party slipped and endured a full submersion. Fortunately, the water was warm. Unfortunately, his camera did not survive.
After exiting the cave, we enjoyed lunch, agreed we had a fun time, and discussed a number of possibilities for future outings.
PS: For more detailed information on the history, geology, and chemistry of the cave, check out the excellent website. Simply click on any link connected to a topic that catches your interest.