Kingdom of mountain spirits

 

Tour to Neocene

 

22. Kingdom of mountain spirits

 

 

 

The warm and damp Neocene climate had considerably shifted borders of vegetative communities: the zone of equatorial rainforests has extended, and all other phytogeographic zones have moved to poles. Therefore southern Europe appeared in climatic zone more similar to climate of the north of India of Holocene epoch. As now Red sea and Persian gulf had closed and dried out because of the Arabian plate movement, and Mediterranean sea has dried up and has turned to marshy salty plain, the climate of the Balkan had became drier and hot - from the east this district borders on the continuous land area. Only in the winter from the north rains come: Black, Azov and Caspian seas together with Aral sea again filled by water have formed common saltish-water basin - Fourseas. From it also clouds float, streaming in winter with vivifying rains above the Balkan. The vegetation of Balkan is presented by species, steady against summer drought and similar to vegetation of Holocene Mediterranean. Mountain forests are formed by oaks and pines, lower on slopes palms and laurel trees grow. Trees at mountain feet are plentifully twined round by vines and ivy.
Occasionally in mountains there are caves. This is the heritage of an ice age past for 20 million years up to this time. When mountain glaciers had thawed, they had pierced extensive caves in rocks. Near these caves the special microclimate forms: the ground at an entrance is covered with a moss cover, ferns and small moisture-loving plants with soft motley leaves plentifully expand. Frequently small streams follow from caves, and sometimes the large river can "come down" in the cave and flows some kilometers under the ground.
Caves are the special world, in which conditions sharply differ that on the surface. Fluctuations of temperatures here are smoothed, humidity is higher, but in air there is less than oxygen and more than carbonic gas. Creatures were and still to found, for which cave is the native house. But life in a cave is more difficult, than on a surface of the ground: here there is not enough food. On the surface it is a lot of vegetation giving livelihood even to the most specialized and choosy eaters. In the cave the situation is much simpler: here or the meal is, or it is not present. Here practically there is nothing to choose. And the food chain of cave nevertheless originates on the surface of the ground. Insects can eat lichens, mosses and microscopic algae at the cave entrance, but the large animal nevertheless should leave stone vaults and to search for food in forest.
At night above Balkan mountain forests it is possible to hear the flapping of wings: above trees flights of medium-sized birds with short heads similar on owl’s ones are hovered. They find fructifying trees and gather the share of the crop. Juicy fruits of fan palms, luscious - sweet fruits of laurel trees, berries of wild vines - all this kinds of food are the forage to birds. If to listen to their voices, it is possible correctly to find out who they are. Birds silently coo: they are pigeons, cavedoves, had gone for the feeding. Birds peck juicy fruits, swallow as a whole together with seeds berries of vines and myrtles, eat soft leaflets of trees. They hasten - they have time only up to dawn. For night pigeons fly a forest, choosing trees with ripe fruits. In it sense of smell helps them - at other birds it is poorly advanced, but to pigeons at times it is more necessary, than sight. With the help of sense of smell the pigeon confidently distinguishes the ripened fruit from unripe even in darkness. Trees of different species fructify in different time, therefore pigeons always have food though at times it is necessary to make distant rambles for it, flying by for night up to 20 kilometers. Eating fruits, cavedoves carry seeds of trees and by that promote expanding of forests.
But the east gradually brightens, and behind eastern mountains the sun rises. Pigeons were already fairly sated and have filled craws with berries. They bunch in flights, make the farewell circle above the forest, collecting was late birds, and make for home. Flights are divided: each flight of cavedoves correctly finds the cave, obeying homing. During feeding in night forest pigeons of different caves find a pair to themselves - so the pernicious inbreeding resulting in degeneration of posterity is prevented.
Flapping wings, pigeons come back in the cave. They fly by in wide entrance and shoot upwards under the ceiling. There, under the cave vault, on stone juts hungry nestlings wait for them. The parents have arrived from feeding are literally attacked by pair of hungry offsprings. Having chosen the nestling for itself, parents start feeding: the nestling widely opens wide the mouth, and the parent belches in it berries reserved during feeding and pieces of fruits. Clapping wings covered with tubules of not developed feathers, the nestling greedy swallows the brought food. While its only task is fatten. It quickly fattens, but obviously does not hasten to become fledged: it occurs, when the nestling will grow to about 9/10 of parent weight. Having got the breakfast (either dinner, or supper – it is unimportant, under vaults of the cave it is always darkly), nestlings calm down and start to digest food. And then for feeding neighbours of pigeons, large vampire ticks, go. Eight-legged bloodsuckers live in cracks of cave vaults - more close to the food source. When the colony of pigeons calms down, ticks leave refuges. By smell they find pigeon nestlings and creep on their body. With the help of thermoreceptors on forward pair of legs the tick determines a place where the blood vessel approaches close to skin, and pierces skin by saw-shaped cheliceras. Then the animal immerses in wound the proboscis and starts to suck blood, being increased in tens times. It does not cause anxiety to nestlings: in tick saliva there is an anaesthetic substance. But after attack of the tick wound bleeds a long time: the tick injects anticoagulants (the substances interfering curtailing of blood) in wound. Only females suck blood, and they make it once at life. After that ticks go down on walls of the cave to lay eggs. Here they enter the world dangerous to themselves, occupied by set of creatures. Not all females succeed to lay eggs - the significant part of them perishes during travel in the cave.
The surface of walls and floor of the cave under cavedove nests is covered with smudges of dung, and on the floor the great number of feathers lays – they also are food sources for set of other cave inhabitants. Pigeons for them are only suppliers of livelihood. Not digested seeds of plants are used too: they sprout, but from lack of light turn to strange "skeletons" reminding sprouts of the potato tuber. Sometimes large, but not able to fly dove nestling falls from rock jut and bruises to death against cave floor - it is the real feast for inhabitants of the cave.
Feathers of pigeons, laid on the cave floor, slightly move. It happens not only because of wind, which rushes sometimes reach this part of a cave. If to look attentively, it is possible to see, that on feathers caterpillars creep - some of them are absolutely tiny, and others are rather solid, up to 3 centimeters long and more. They are covered with thin pale cuticle through which interiors are seen. Caterpillars continuously eat: their jaws constantly move, tearing off and swallowing slices... of feathers. These caterpillars are larvae of large feathermoth - the pale moth meeting under vaults of the cave. There are no bats here, therefore the butterfly feels like in full safety. It is the real giant among moths: wingspan of the adult female is up to 4 centimeters, males are little bit smaller. Adult females do not eat, therefore they prefer to not depart from the native cave. Males on the contrary are real brave travellers. Flying from cave to cave, they promote transfer of successful combinations of genes. Therefore one species of feathermoths lives in caves over all Balkan only, though other species of insects appreciably can differ in different caves. The feathermoth eats the kind of food that any species of cave insects do not eat – difficult to digestion bird feathers. Due to it this species is out of competition in this closed world of the cave.
The sprouts of plants sticking up from the grounds layer at the cave bottom are delicious food for other insect. Not being able at all to fly, this creature quickly creeps along the cave bottom, searching for pale sprouts. It is the beetle of rosy - brown color. Its forward legs are flat, and on their external edge line of tooth-like outgrowths passes. Fan-shaped antennas allow an insect to catch smells and to be guided in darkness. But even if it will be lighter in the cave, all the same it would see nothing - this beetle is blind. Flat forward legs and wide shovel-like head show that it is the dungbeetle. It is the troglodyte dungbeetle constantly living in caves. It feeds larvae with the dung of pigeons though imago prefers vegetative food. By strong mandibles the beetle gnaws at the basis the high white - pink sprout, and then starts to devour it, holding by forward legs. When the second beetle about the same size runs up to feasting insect, the owner of meal takes the menacing position: having extended on four legs, it moves by antennas, trying to determine the size of the contender. It rubs forward legs one another, thus teeth rub against each other, uttering the crash sound. The contender too utters the same crash, trying to intimidate the neighbour. Listening to sounds of each other, beetles estimate force of the contender and miss. The interrupted meal renews.
Troglodyte dungbeetles spend all life in the cave. Their wings are reduced and they are not able to fly. beetles are constantly occupied with cares of breeding: some of them are coupled, others already search for food for posterity – the dung of cavedoves. Having determined by smell a little heap of the bird's dung, the beetle creeps under it by the flat head and by forward legs heaps up the dung to itself on the prothorax concave in front. Passing from one heap to another, the beetle almost completely hides under the gathered dung. Then along the own odorous trace it comes back to hole beforehand dug in poor cave ground. On the hole edge the beetle smells about, defining, whether the neighbour has occupied its possession. When the insect makes sure, that everything is all right, it creeps into the hole and in its depth dumps from itself the brought dung. Using the head, the beetle rams the dung to the back wall of the hole, and then gets outside. Accurately having filled up the entrance, the beetle hastens for new dung portion. When the hole will be choked up by dung almost completely, there comes an important action: with the help of the long ovipositor in thickness of dung eggs are laid, and then the hole is masking by ground and the beetle searches for a place for the new hole.
In comparison with the busy female of the troglodyte dungbeetle the feathermoth can seem the careless and frivolous mummy. It only finds the feathers shed by pigeons and lays eggs on them then its parent duties are ended. However, it is not necessary to blame it for carelessness: the adult insect does not have time for a care of posterity. Having made three - four egg masses, it will die, having exhausted internal stocks of the organism.
Feathermoth larvae freely crawl in the layer of eaten away pigeon feathers at the cave bottom. The only thing, that they can make at the predator attack is to be buried in feather dust more deeply. But it hardly will stop predators.
Pair of lights fussy moves on the cave floor, from time to time stopping. When they run up more close, it appears, that these lights are luminous spots on the thorax of the lighttower tigerbeetle, rather dangerous cave predator. As if the police dog, this beetle rushes by long legs on stones, searching catch by smell. And now it has sensed larvae of the feathermoth. Having extinguished lights and silently having crept, the lighttower tigerbeetle rushes on the caterpillars occupied with meal, and carries off one of them. Having seized by long mandibles the wriggling catch, the beetle hasty escapes deep into caves. Having passed through some stones, it appears in absolutely other world: floor and walls of the cave are covered by tens yellow lights which blink and sometimes become dim. These are numerous larvae of lighttower tigerbeetles attract and catch prey. The lighttower tigerbeetle accurately bypasses their aside: the larva is very gluttonous, and it can finish even with the adult beetle. In air the mosquitoes hover which have flied from the forest for day time rest. But some of them can be remained here for ever, having disappeared in insatiable stomach of the beetle larva.
However even these ruthless predators can fall a victim to other cave inhabitants. From the eggs laid by vampire ticks, hexapod nymphs were exclused. They wander in groups, trying to keep in the smell zone of neighbours. By group it is easier to get food - larvae of lighttower tigerbeetles. Having chosen prey somewhere at the edge of the colony, tick nymphs simultaneously attack it, paralyzing the nervous chain of the larva by poisonous stings. Then, trying to not come nearer to strong mandibles of the prey, they devour the lighttower tigerbeetle larva. And one more lamp in cave gloom becomes dim for ever.
Larvae of the troglodyte dungbeetle eat the dung reserved by mother very quickly. And it nothing remains to them, except for search for the new dung independently. They get out of the hole and crawl out. From time to time larvae lift heads up and twist by them, determining the dung smell in air. Felt desired aroma, the larva goes to its source. It is necessary to hasten – for one flat mass of dung there are many ones interested. Having been well fed up to the necessary size, the larva will be buried in ground and will pupate. But it should overcome many dangers of this dark world before it. And one such danger, moving by thin legs, already approaches.
Lean, as if a twig, the phantom soothsayer bypasses the possession. It has felt a smell of the troglodyte dungbeetle larvae, and now sense of smell conducts it on the trace of sluggish larva. Having caught up a fat worm-like larva creeping on stones, the phantom soothsayer seizes it by spiny forward legs and by prompt sting tears off its head. Having torn up covers of catch on the abdominal side, the soothsayer holds it in seizing legs, but does not hasten to eat. The riddle of its behavior is solved simply: on its body tiny copies of an adult creature are slipped on catch. It is the female of the soothsayer. She does not leave eggs to the mercy of fate, and touchingly cares of the posterity. In this world full of dangers such strategy justifies itself. Some days ago at her larvae were exclused, and now all stayed life of the female is devoted only to them. She catches prey, but does not eat it, and feeds larvae. In conditions of small choice of food this is the optimum decision. The female needs to live not for long - only about one week, but her posterity safely will go through the first moult and further easily can take care of itself. While the young growth eats the dungbeetle larva, the soothsayer female stands motionlessly, as if the idol. Only slight head movements give out in her the intense condition - she is ready to battle to any predator of her size to protect larvae.
Some days pass, completely imperceptible in gloom of cave depths. The soothsayer female had died, and her posterity has crawled out in cave towards to the destiny. And one young soothsayer has come on territory where lighttower tigerbeetle larvae stick up on stones. In comparison with it these creatures are real giants. Light which they have emit, as if has enchanted the young soothsayer. Around larvae midges hover, but the larva feels a smell of more essential catch - the soothsayer, therefore it does not pay attention to midges. But the soothsayer sees small shadows in bright light of the larva, and it attracts it closely and closely to the trap. One more fatal step - and all is over. The lighttower tigerbeetle larva extinguishes "lamp" and by sharp throw catches the soothsayer. The strong bite has literally split it half-and-half. And now the predator itself has fallen prey - holding it by legs, the beetle larva teares off pieces of its body.
From time to time to the world of multiped cave inhabitants “god-send” is dumped - not being able to fly, the cavedove nestling falls from juts edge and bruises itself to death. Last spasmes of the dying nestling have not finished as around of it numerous inhabitants of the cave gather. Pairs of bluish lights blink around of the body, shining it by illusive light - lighttower tigerbeetles, felt the smell of blood, had run together for the feast. They are pushed around of the body, tear off pieces of meat and skin, run against each other, blinking by lights. However they should pay attention not only to neighbours - the congestion of lighttower tigerbeetles has involved the phantom soothsayer. This large female is not interested with the dead body of the pigeon, she has come here to hunt. And her deadly forward legs find the catch - the lighttower tigerbeetle. But she escapes, having been frightened of two larger lights which are coming nearer from apart. In the beginning it seems, that it is one more lighttower tigerbeetle, but some time passes, and it was found, that the owner of lights is rather larger than lighttower tigerbeetle. This surprising animal is the luminous cave frog. Big eyes, thin legs and translucent skin make this animal any unearthly, as if the alien creature of other planet. But it is the Earth animal, and its purpose is quite earthly one - the frog starts to lick off lighttower tigerbeetles one by one. And before they have run up, four ones appeared had eaten by an amphibian.
Ghost frogs have widely settled in next caves due to habit of life features. In depth of hall there is a pass which is sharply turning off aside and downwards. It leads to the underground river, to tell more precisely, to the river which from the ground surface leaves in system of caves through the karst gap. The river carries rests of plants and bodies of dead ground animals, giving food to set of strange inhabitants of cave lakes connected by the river in common system.
Branches and leaves floating in the river settle on a bottom. And translucent creatures, as if had made of glass - glass caveshrimps - immediately find them. They are completely blind, at them have disappeared even eye stems. But long antennas replace eyes for them - in an eternal gloom of caves senses of smell and touch appear more effectively than eyesight. Having found parts of plants or the dead animal, shrimps tear off the piece of food for themselves as much, as they can, and hasten to hide in cracks between stones. In these cave reservoirs there are also predators - large, similar to fishes, tadpoles of ghost frogs. With the help of the extensible mouths they easily can kill even the large shrimp, therefore crustaceans try to have dinner in reliable shelter.
From time to time the silence of the cave river is broken off with sounds - ghost frog males ready to spawning, call females for themselves. The male usually takes seat on the stone which is sticking up near to the coast in shallow water, and starts to utter the breeding sounds reminding the cricket chirm. Thus it does not stint illumination: its "lamps" flash dazzling - white light, and on each side there is the line of small luminous points. The female ready to spawning answers the male with quiet squeaky sounds, and frog pair together dives into water. Under water they also continue to shine, submitting a signal to neighbours, that the territory is occupied. The male grasps the female by forepaws, and she as the sign of submission extinguishes "lamps". Such joint swimming synchronizes vital processes of both sexual partners, and stimulates fast egg forming at the female. At the necessary moment it is shaken with whole body, letting out the portion of eggs which is fertilized on the spot by the male. It proceeds like this up to five times while all eggs will be spawned. Then the male lets the female off and itself ljuts the reservoir - it should be fattened to be ready to new spawning act.
Frog eggs seem defenseless and easy catch for carnivorous tadpoles. However they do not pay to it any attention. The reason of it is simple: eggs have taste unpleasant for tadpoles that protects them from their encroachments. Also the early larvae of the frog pasted to stones and living due to the egg yolk rests also are protected. But passed to free swimming tadpoles can expect only to themselves.
However frog eggs nevertheless are in danger: shrimps, favorite catch of tadpoles, very much frequently search for clutches and eat yet not developed posterity of ghost frogs, counterbalancing thus chances for surviving.
The body of certain tiny mammal which the river has brought in this cave, appears very attractive to shrimps. Crustaceans move by long antennas and swim up to temptingly smelling catch. Soon around of the body some transparent shrimps gather. The small tadpole of the ghost frog joins them. It yet does not represent threat for shrimps, therefore crustaceans continue the meal, only sometimes swimming aside when the tadpole carelessly pushes them away, pinching by mouth the meat from the body.
Unexpectedly as if the arrow shoots past near the school of shrimps. Transparent crustaceans have rushed in all sides and were promptly buried in sand. And only the tadpole was unlucky: it was seized by the predator. Re-seizing the prey from the head, it has stopped on any time in thickness of transparent water. At it there are wide head, huge extensible mouth, translucent sinewy body and the strong tail bordered by fin plica. It is too the tadpole of the same ghost frog, but of more advanced age. Its “childhood” comes to an end, and soon it will turn in the young ghost frog.
Having finished with catch, the large tadpole lazily swims in secluded crevice among stones, and floating on water surface body of small mammal attracts blind transparent shrimps again. Life of these creatures proceeds, in despite of predators ransacking in gloom.
Highly above this world, in the main cave hall, cavedoves have appreciably bucked up. All of them fly from place to place more often, loudly cooing. Their voices merge in the uniform rumble resounding in the cave. The sun sets, shadows become longer, and there comes time to be fed. Gradually the birds flying under cave vaults, bunch to one flight and leave the cave. They fly up above an evening forest, and shining of the setting sun paints their feathers pinkish color. Pigeons depart for fruit search and soon their silhouettes merge with shadows of evening forest. And after them large white moths with feather-like antennas leave the cave - some males of feathermoth have departed to search for females to the next caves. They live in the world of most delicate smells among which sooner or later they will find the path of odorous substances which is emitting from the next cave.
Alive creatures have wonderful property to adapt practically to any conditions of environment. And this property makes possible existence of life on the Earth from hot tropics up to ice poles, from dry deserts up to gloomy depths of ocean, from the highest mountain tops up to the deepest caves. Life distinguishes the Earth from other planets of Solar system, and its history is inextricably related with the history of the Earth.

Bestiary

Cavedove (Cavernicolumba strigops)
Order: Columbiformes
Family: Columbidae

Small bird, the descendant of the blue rock pigeon (Columba livia), living in caves. Length of the body is up to 25 cm including tail, wingspan is up to 40 cm, weight - about 250 grams. Coloring of the body is soft, gray-brown with cross strips across feathers, forming slight dark-striped pattern on the body. The head is similar to owl’s one, eyes are large, directed forward: at this bird it is three-dimensional sight. In eye retina tiny rods considerably prevail above cones, and the eye bottom is covered with layer of cells containing guanine (in darkness eyes of this bird "shine" like cat’s ones). It is connected with its habit of life: the cavedove is nocturnal animal. Similarly to Holocene South-American guacharo (Steatornis caripensis) the cavedove is the vegetarian. For night pigeons fly out to the forest for feeding, and come back to native caves in the morning. The bird eats fruits of plants - palms and laurel trees, swallowing them as a whole. Seeds of these plants are not digested in stomach of the pigeon and are thrown out with bird’s dung. Large seeds of palms are simply belching by the bird. The role of this bird in life of the Balkan caves is greatest: the bird's dung, feathers and had belched seeds form the basis of trophic chains of cave ecosystem. A colony of pigeons is the basic source of food for numerous cave inhabitants.
The pigeon nests by colonies on stone juts of large caves inaccessible to ground predators where pair of birds constructs primitive nest of rods and feathers threw up to heap, in which two - three nestlings are hatched by them. The incubating lasts 15 days, nestlings sit in the nest about one month and then take off and about one week are finished feeding by parents.

Ghost frog (Pellucirana spectrum)
Order: Tailless amphibians (Anura)
Family: Ranidae

Picture by Sauron from FurNation

Initial image
Picture by Pavel Volkov

This species of animals is amazing not only among frogs, but also in general among all four-footed vertebrates because of one feature - this frog is able to luminescence. At the adult frog parotic glands have turned to organs of luminescence - in them luminous bacteria have to found the habitat. Such organisms are very usual in the nature - they frequently meet on decomposed organic substances. Obviously, at any stage of evolution they have passed to parasitism at frogs, simultaneously having allowed them to occupy thus new habitats - gloomy caves. Luminous animals are most variable among invertebrates and fishes, and among ground vertebrates this surprising feature – is rather exception, than a rule. In Holocene lizard Proctoporus chrevei from Trinidad island was known to which ability to luminescent was attributed. And the Neocaenic ghost frog undoubtedly is able to shine, and its light is very bright.
By appearance it is similar to usual frogs, differing from them only by more graceful constitution and long legs on which the swimming membrane reaches only middle of toes. The frog body is up to 10 cm long, is covered by translucent skin, through which on belly internal organs are well visible. Parotic glands (poisonous glands behind eyes) have turned to places of luminous bacteria breeding. From within the area of parotic glands is covered by membrane containing cells, rich in guanine: it allows to reflect light effectively to outside. At males on each side of body also small luminous glands are contained in skin - it is an element of the courtship livery of the animal. The frog eats cave insects, finding them by smell or attracting by light. Sometimes it can leave a cave for night, eating forest insects, however because of a sensitive skin it does not endure the bright sunlight and is compelled to disappear in a cave after sunrise.
Ghost frogs breed similar to all frogs – they spawn in water of cave reservoirs. Fertility of these species is insignificant - up to 50 large eggs. Tadpoles develop in underground reservoirs, young animals eat bacteria and unicellular organisms, scrape dead animal bodies: their mouths are modified to scraping suckers. More elder and large tadpoles eat worms and their own neighbours. They are fine combined, have large extensible gullet and small corneous teeth on jaws. Duration of the tadpole development is from 2 to about 5 months. It is connected to food resources scarcity in reservoirs. At lack of food development of the tadpole is strongly delayed, but it all the same can turn to the normal frog.

Glass caveshrimp (Crystallaephyra leptochela)
Order: Decapods (Decapoda)
Family: Atyidae

This is the representative of decapods have adapted for life in caves. The specific habit of life was affected in shape of an animal: eyes have completely disappeared, there are no even eye stems; legs and pincers were strongly extended, the body has lost pigmentation and became almost transparent. Length of the crustacean is up to 4 cm, antennas - up to 6 cm. Pair of swimming legs (pleopods) on the tip of the abdomen, forming “caudal fin”, can work as a shovel, for few seconds digging the crustacean in sand at the case of danger.
The animal is omnivorous, eats the rests of plants and animals brought by the river from ground surface. It finds food due to sharp sense of smell.
The shrimp is dioecious, the female carries eggs (up to 80 ones) on abdominal legs, ventilating them with special movements. At this time the female does not eat to not expose itself to attacks of predators, and is hidden in narrow cracks between stones. From eggs plancton swimming larvae 3 millimeters long, eating unicellular organisms and particles of organic substances, are hatching. After 10 - 12 moults (depending on an abundance of food) the shrimp becomes adult.

Feathermoth (Ornitinea mallophaga)
Order: Butterflies (Lepidoptera)
Family: Tineidae

This insect is the large moth - wingspan is up to 4 cm at females and up to 3 cm at males. Coloring of wings is gray-white with slight longitudinal wavy pattern. In rest wings are folded on the back like roof sides. Except the difference of sizes, the male and the female differ by the structure of antennas: at females antennas short, simple, at males large and feather-like. At females the oral aperture is very small, closed by upper lip, males have the advanced oral organs and are capable to eat rotting parts of plants. Adult moth males fly from cave to cave through the forest. In flight they are guided by the smell of pheromones emitting by females with the help of organs of smell sense located on antennas.
Larvae eat feathers and dried up dead bodies of birds, have strong gnawing jaws. Having fattened up to length 4 - 5 cm, the larva ljuts floor of a cave and makes the cocoon in the crack between stones. The metamorphosis lasts about 7 days. Young females try to fly as small as possible: they sit on walls of the cave and start to emit sexual pheromones, involving males. Males on the contrary, fly actively and are capable to make flights through the forest, spending day in shelters. They eat fruits beginning to rot and can feed by carrion liquids. Spending in flight some nights, they reach other caves where pair with local females and after it quickly perish. Fertilized females find shed feathers of birds on which lay eggs and then also perish.

Phantom soothsayer (Spealeomantis cavernispectrum)
Order: Soothsayers (Mantoidea)
Family: Mantidae

This cave predator hunts various insects. It is sizable: body length is up to 10 - 12 cm (the female is larger), but the body and legs are very thin. The abdomen is leaf-shaped, edges of segments are extended to short sharp tooth-like overgrowths. The head is movably jointed with thorax, triangular, eyes are very large. Seizing legs are brawny, with numerous thorns. Walking legs are very thin, with leaf-looking expansions on shins. Wings are reduced. Coloring of the body is rosy - grey, abdomen is lighter.
Ritual of breeding is similar to those at other species of order: the female eats the male during pairing. After pairing it lays about 30 eggs in the mucous cocoon which is drying up from above to strong crust, and carries clutch on itself. The female feeds first time larvae hatched from eggs with its own catch (up to their first moult). During the carrying of eggs and larvae the female eats nothing, giving the caught catch to larvae and perishes after larvae had left it.

Troglodyte dungbeetle (Troglocopris columbinus)
Order: Beetles (Coleoptera)
Family: Scarabeidae

The representative of lamellicorn beetles family (Scarabeidae). This beetle eats dung of birds. It is blind. Body length of the female is up to 3 cm, the male - up to 1,5 cm. The body is rosy - brown, "tortoise shell" color. At this insect wings are reduced, and elytrums are strongly linked with each other, forming the solid shell protecting against enemies. Head of the insect is wide, shovel-shaped - the first edge has extended and has become covered by small tooth-like overgrowths. Legs are strong, middle and hind pairs are used for walking, the forward pair is wide, serves for scrapping the dung of birds from stones. The dung, had scraped by forward legs, gathers in the deepening on the prothorax. Like this the insect carries it to the shelter, loading itself with it sometimes as much, as the insect weighs itself. The female after pairing digs holes for larvae in ground of caves and fills them with dung of birds. In clutch there are up to one and half tens eggs, for all life the female makes up to 5 - 7 clutches.
Hatched larvae eat all dung and go to independent search of food. To the moment of going out from the shelter they moult twice and grow five times more in comparison with initial weight. Legs of "walking" larvae are well advanced, allowing the larva to creep confidently, helping itself with movements of an abdomen. The larva is guided by smell - at it and adult insect sense of smell is excellently advanced. Male larvae have one moult less, than females.

Lighttower tigerbeetle (Cicindellodromus luciferus)
Order: Beetles (Coleoptera)
Family: Cicindellidae

It belongs to family of tiger beetles (Cicindellidae), both larva and adult insect are predators. Jaws of the adult beetle are very long – they are as long as head and the thorax taken together. Antennas are long: their length is almost equal the length of beetle body; eyes are well advanced, very sensitive, consist of numerous facets. Legs are very long, on the leg ends there are strong claws. On each side of thorax of the adult beetle two large luminous organs are located, letting out bluish light. An abdomen is very short, almost spherical. Wings are underdeveloped, elytrums are short, do not cover last abdominal segment. The body is colored black; legs are covered with grey hairs.
The larva attracts catch, sitting on ground. The forward end of the body is free, it can be extended, when the larva catches prey; by the back end the larva keeps for ground with the help of special glue glands. On the pectoral department of the larva there is the organ of luminescence turning outside. When the larva is hungry, it turns it out and "lights". Thus it, having extended upwards, reminds a tiny light tower. Bright yellow light attracts midges, mosquitoes and feathermoths - the basic food of larva. The larva catches them by legs and jaws.

Vampire tick (Columbacaris nosferatu)
Order: Ixodida
Family: Argasidae

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

This representative of cave blood-sucking ticks eats blood of pigeons. The length of its body is up to 4 mm, the individ had sucked to blood is increased up to 15 mm, turning almost spherical. Shell coloring is black with speckled white pattern on the forward part of the body. On forward legs and cephalothorax there are available thermoreceptors; using it the tick finds the catch - warm-blooded animals. After blood-sucking act the female lays up to 200 eggs in cracks of stones. Hatched hexapod nymphs have no thermoreceptors because they attack insects. But at them sense of smell is well advanced, they find catch by odorous traces. Males of the tick after last moult do not eat, their oral organs are underdeveloped. They live about several months due to nutrients saved up from larval stages. For this time they try to find as much as possible females and to fertilize them. The female lays eggs up to 8 - 9 times a life with breaks in some weeks. Life expectancy of the adult female is till 2 years, in case of a fodder shortage the animal can fall to delayed inactive condition proceeding till 3 years without harm for an animal.

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