Arkenstone Cave was discovered near the Rincon Mountains of Southeastern Arizona in the 1960’s. This living cave is protected by the county and accessible only to a few scientists and researchers.
We have spent a great deal of time investigating information regarding Arkenstone and La Tetera Caves. Our most important finding has been the fact that Pima County regards these living caves as treasure troves of precious, immeasurable scientific information.
Access is extremely limited; but a visit to Colossal Cave Mountain Park Museum can provide the curious with results of the past and latest research conducted inside Arkenstone Cave.
Here are some of the research highlights provided from the Museum Caving Rooms at Colossal Cave east of Tucson, AZ.
ARKENSTONE is an active KARST CAVE, which means the breaking down of limestone has produced fissures, sinkholes, caverns and underground streams.
Most caves are formed in limestone. Simply put, it dissolves from precipitation mixing with carbon dioxide and the decaying organic material in the soil. This dissolution process is extremely slow. Thousands upon thousands of years!
Karst image courtesy of www.geocaching.com
Arkenstone, La Tetera and Colossal Caves are located in Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Arizona. Colossal Cave is dry and considered a dead cave. La Tetera and Arkenstone are alive and adorned with calcium carbonate formations produced through slow precipitation.
Mineral deposits in caves are called SPELEOTHEMS.
ARKENSTONE CAVE is called:
- a WILD cave
- a WET cave
- a LIVE, “active” cave
What does this mean… A wild cave has no provisions for the general public and is dangerous without expert equipment and experience. A wet cave has precipitation.
A live cave has life forms, insects, faunal, animal, species and unusual speleothems.
Pima County and Colossal Park employees have an overwhelming desire and responsibility to protect La Tetera and Arkenstone living Caves.
Several new species have been found in Arkenstone that are endemic to Arkenstone, meaning they only exist in Arkenstone Cave. A few researchers have special grants to work in these living Arizona Caves.
In recent years, 7 new species of fauna have been found. The Arkenstone Cave exhibit at Colossal Mountain Park Museum gives detailed descriptions.
Animals that live in caves are often put in the category called TROGLOBITES. Troglobitic species tend to be very unusual organisms. For example, they may have loss of pigment or no eyes. These characteristics would be adaptations to their subterranean life.
A previously unknown species of pseudoscorpion was discovered in Arkenstone. The pseudoscorpion has since been listed as one of Pima County’s priority vulnerable species!
A small, late Quaternary, (about 2 million yrs ago), deposit of degraded bat guano (poop) in Arkenstone Cave yielded thousands of fossil bat bones.
Rarer bones in the deposit represent a smaller species of bat (Myotis) and the extinct vampire bat Desmodus stocki.
This is the first record of D. stocki in what is now the Sonoran Desert and the second location for the vampire bat species in Arizona.
Due to leaching in the alkaline cave environment, the bones could not be dated by radiocarbon, but the fossils probably date to the late Pleistocene Age — (Late Pleistocene Bats from Arkenstone Cave, Arizona by Nicholas Czaplewski and William Peachey, December 2003)
The Late Pleistocene age was dominated by glaciation Many larger land animals, MEGAFAUNA, became extinct over this ICE AGE. Experts estimated that 30% of the Earth’s surface was covered by ice. Pleistocene vampire bats most likely were capable of surviving in cooler temperatures than the modern bats of today.
The extinction of Desmodus stocki paralleled the extinction of the megafauna.
Research indicates that Arkenstone Cave was the site of a maternity colony of Myotis thysanodes. Myotis thysandoes is a larger species of bat, mammal. These bats begin nursing colonies, female nurse bats remain at the roost while other adults are out foraging.
Virtually all of the bones collected were of that species. Remains of Desmodus are consistent with a single individual, and those of a small Myotis (bat) consistent with two individuals (Czaplewski and Peachey 2003).
Desmodus stocki was 20% larger than the still extant common vampire bat. Lets put aside the scary name, VAMPIRE, and let me share some benevolent behavior of Vampire Bats that may gain your admiration for the Pleistocene bat, Desmodus Stocki.
Vampire Bats are one of the few animal species that show caring behavior for those beyond their family group. They even adopt orphaned bats and will share their food. Look at the photo above for more altruistic vampire ways. 🙂
Scientists state that fossil records of Desmodus stocki are uncommon because these bats mainly roosted in hollow trees and any remains would decay along with the wood.
photo above is courtesy of Journal of Cave and Karst Studies