Earth’s Ominous Dungeons

BBC Cave Image 2

~Life inside a black hole~

Strands of slimy glowworms dangle from the ceiling, cockroaches blanket 100-meter mounds of bat droppings, and translucent crabs creep through an all-consuming night expanse… There is a good reason why caves remain among the least explored landscapes of the world.

Once again, the BBC’s Planet Earth triumphs in patience and intrepidity to illuminate an otherwise perpetually nocturnal environment. In “Caves,” viewers learn to appreciate the intricacies of surviving in this bleak habitat.

Within the ominous depths of cave shafts that could swallow the Empire State building whole and miles of caverns that could exhaust the most athletic marathon runner, a host of eccentric creatures carry out peculiar livelihoods. Flocks of sparrow-like cave swifts, for instance, rely on emitting loud clicks to navigate through the blind corridors of caves. Echolocation, a skill cave swifts share with bats, is a phenomenon that humans are still researching to better understand. Cave swifts may be just like any other bird with their aptitude for building nests; however, instead of knitting twigs, they spend upwards of 30 days sewing their saliva into cup-shaped receptacles. For 500 years humans have harvested these nests as an integral component of bird nest soup, valued gram for gram in equivalence to silver.

BBC Cave Image 1

~Planet Earth’s production diary: “Into the Abyss”~

Living down in the cavernous depths of earth for one complete month was the ultimate culture shock for the Planet Earth film crew. Described as the most unpleasant of work environments, crewmembers adapted to life with fellow dwellers by taping their paper suit crotches to keep out cockroaches while waist deep in bat guano.

Not only was living amidst death and decay a multi-faceted challenge, but also descending into Lechuguilla Cave’s Chandelier Ballroom in New Mexico was a potentially fatal endeavor. The last broken ankle suffered while maneuvering this claustrophobic tunnel network required a rescue effort of over 100 expert cavers. The BBC crew spent 10 days living in and navigating the cave’s enduring pall of nighttime with 500 kilos of film equipment to keep in account. Although the crew eventually succeeded in its documentary undertaking, the caves prove to be a habitat only for the truly adaptable and adventuresome.

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