Planet Earth Shines a Light on Caves

8 Sep
Public Domain Image Courtesy of NASA

Image Courtesy of NASA

Contrary to popular belief, space is not the final frontier.  While astronauts and astronomers make headlines with their discoveries of things beyond our planet, there is still one section of Earth that few dare to explore.  Beneath the surface of this world is a whole other world of dangerous caves and mysterious cave-dwelling animals.  BBC’s Planet Earth gives us a glimpse at the most majestic and gigantic of these caves and the strange inhabitants that otherwise would have been left in the dark.

Gone Fishing with Glow Worms

During one of the first scenes in this episode of Planet Earth, the filmmakers play a little trick on the viewer.  After the narration mentions that caves are home to some of the “strangest and least known animals on the planet,” the shot appears to cut to a starry night sky with bells chiming in the soundtrack.  However, these “stars” are actually the glowing blue lights in the tails of cave glow worms.  These cave dwellers are attracting their prey towards the silken strands that act as fishing lures.  While it is a little gross that these strands come from the glow worms’ mouths and are filled with drops of mucus, the insects flying into and twisting around the pearly strands look a little bit like an act from Cirque du Soleil.  Who would have guessed that such beauty could be seen from a creature that catches its food in its snot?

Giant Mound of Guano

Probably the most interesting and yet disgusting scenes in this “Caves” episode are in Borneo’s Deer Cave, which is big enough for a jumbo jet and home to three million wrinkle-lipped bats.  With so many bats comes something else of gigantic proportions in this big cave: a huge mound of bat droppings, also known as guano.  As the camera sweeps along the mound, the viewer gets an idea of just how big this pile of sewage is, as well as a better look at what lies inside the dung.  While the cave’s ceiling is covered in millions of bats, the mound of guano is covered in a carpet of millions of cockroaches.  Close-up shots of the cockroaches digging through the dung reveal giant cave centipedes and crabs living in the bat droppings.  While the digested remains of food from the bats provide a source of food for these cave animals, the guano can be a death trap to other animals.  In what are some of the most horrifying shots of this scene, the viewer sees a small rodent get trapped in the dung like quicksand and suffocate.  The shot of another animal’s skeleton in the dung reminds us that this is the circle of life that provides life to the cockroaches and crabs, but suffocating in another animal’s feces seems to be one of the most awful ways to die.

Filmmakers “Into the Abyss”

As the Planet Earth Diaries’ “Into the Abyss” for this “Caves” episode showed, the rodents were not the only ones who suffered in the guano for this film.  Like the Diaries for “Chasing Wild Camels,” the filmmakers in this episode faced quite a few challenges in filming some of Earth’s most unknown animals and natural wonders to raise awareness for conservation of our planet.  This time, though, the filmmakers had to spend a month working in a big mess of feces and roaches.  The cockroaches swarmed everywhere, thus complicating the filming process by covering the camera lens and making the filmmakers uncomfortable by crawling up into their pants. Like “Chasing Wild Camels,” “Into the Abyss” is also quite humorous, though the humor is not as subtle this time.  “Please don’t send me back again!” begs one member of the film crew.  Another declares, “No one should have to live one month in pooh.”  The humor here is a bit of potty humor mixed with schadenfreude, as the viewer can laugh at the crew’s struggle while being thankful it is not himself in the muck.  Yet, we should all be thankful for this film crew’s struggle, because without them we would have never been able to see these wondrous caves or the creatures that dwell there, even if it is in a big pile of pooh.

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One Response to “ Planet Earth Shines a Light on Caves”

  1. real estate mutual funds October 6, 2009 at 2:51 pm #

    I usually don’t post on Blogs but ya forced me to, great info.. excellent! … I’ll add a backlink and bookmark your site. 🙂

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