One of Missouri’s most unique habitats is one that’s seldom seen.

A look into a cave is a glance into an underground world that is much more common in this part of the state – and much more fragile – than many people realize. cave

From a habitat standpoint, a cave may encompass a wide range of creatures. On one end of this spectrum are animals that roam the outside world and use the upper portion of caves either infrequently or during only a portion of their lives.

On the other end are organisms that spend all their days underground and have made numerous unique adaptations to their subterranean world.

Sometimes caves provide insight into past habitats. They can serve as natural “museums,” preserving fascinating remnants of what life was like in this region thousands – and sometimes millions – of years ago.

Any discussion of caves begins with an explanation of what karst topography is. Simply put, karst topography is a landscape with a lot of holes in it. The key ingredients are rock formations that are easily dissolved (usually limestone, dolomite, or marble) and water that is slightly acidic because of carbon dioxide it contains.

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