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 Bats and Bones - In the cave

There are many caves in the soluble limestone of the Bahamas, 
some are dry while others, plunging vertically down are flooded. 
These are known as Blue holes. The cave formations on the 
left were photographed in Exuma by Ronda Cox 
of Tropical Kayak Tours. 

 


Towards the centre of New Providence Island, not far from Lake Killarney is one of the few caves near Nassau that hasn’t been filled with water. Not many people know it’s there and even fewer want to go in.  The cave is full of Bats!

Most Bats eat insects, one or two scoop up tiny fish from the water and some eat fruit. Only one - the Vampire Bat, sucks blood. Almost all Bats are completely harmless to people, but many don’t, or won’t, believe that.

We entered the cave on a hot and sticky summer day. The temperature was in the nineties and we wore tee shirts and shorts. Entering the cave, we switched on our torches and moved forward into the darkness. The further we went, the cooler it became. Soon we felt as if we were in a ‘fridge, or an air-conditioned room. It is said the temperature deep in a cave never changes. That is why the French wine makers keep their wines in caves.

Every so often there was a faint fluttering sound as disturbed Bats flew past our heads. Before us now was a huge vertical column reaching from the ceiling to the floor. It was the root of a giant Fig Tree growing above us on the hill. Past the root, the cave became wider and the ceiling higher. Shining our torches up, we saw hundreds of Bats hanging from the rock. They twisted to look at us, some flexing their wings as they prepared to take flight. A few let go their hold and flew around the cave in circles. Aiming my camera upwards I took several flash photographs. There was no way I could focus in the darkness, I just hoped some Bats would be in the right place at the right time! Fortunately - as I later discovered, some were.

Aiming my camera upwards I took several flash photographs. 
There was no way I could focus in the darkness, I just hoped 
some Bats would be in the right place at the right time. 
Luckily, one was!

There was a rattling sound as my foot knocked against something on the floor. I shone the light down and saw some bones. They were very old, and could have been human! One of them certainly seemed to be a human thighbone. We searched around for the skull, but there was none, no animal skull and no human skull. We were none the wiser.

Below us, on the ground, and growing from the thick layer of Bat manure were hundreds of thin white seedlings. These had grown from seeds eaten by the Bats, and that had passed through their digestive systems intact. In the darkness of the cave they would only grow a few inches before dying from lack of light. They had no hope of growing any bigger.

There were other living things in the cave too. There were big centipedes and hundreds of cockroaches scuttling about on the ground and on the bare rock. Many of them would provide sustenance for the biggest of them all. 

In a crevice of the rock was one of the biggest Chicken Snakes I have ever seen, thicker than my arm and probably eight or nine feet long. The snake clearly thrived on Bats - babies and dead adults falling from the ceiling. Here was a predator whose food literally fell in front of him. What an easy life he must have had!

It was obvious that a whole population of animals lived in the cave, supported entirely by the Bats and the food they brought in to the cave. We found the evidence of human occupation too. There were carvings of initials in the rock, some with dates going back a hundred and fifty years.

Our torches were flickering. It was time to return to the world outside the cave. As we turned to go, there was some sort of disturbance and we were instantly surrounded by hundreds of flying Bats. They flew so close we could feel the draught from their wings. We stood still, waiting for them to settle down again. We knew the Bats would avoid us by using their sensitive sonar systems, their big ears catching echoes from high-pitched squeaks.

We passed the pile of old bones and thought about taking a few to the police for forensic tests. In the end we decided to leave them. They seemed to belong in such a spooky place!

The bones are probably still lying there to this day. Only the Bats would know how they got there all those years ago, and they’re not talking!

© R. Attrill 2006