The cave at the Watershed Sanctuary is home to the largest population of Ozark Cavefish in the southeast, limestone Karst region, and in the world.   The Ozark Cavefish, Amblyopsis rosae, is a true troglobite – spending almost all of their time in caves.   It has no eyes or the need for eyes as it will never leave the cave its whole life; if it did, it would be unusually susceptible to predators due to its whitish color and its inability to see.
Ozark Cavefish

Ozark Cavefish

Photo: Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission

The cavefish relies on a series of sensory organs on their body to help them respond to movement and chemical changes in the water to feed themselves and navigate through the cave ecosystem.  The blind Ozark Cavefish is very dependent on the Gray bat to provide the nutrients necessary to feed all of the microscopic and macroscopic plankton in the water of the cave which provides the majority of the food for the Ozark cavefish.   The Bat guano (bat manure) is very rich in nutrients which in turn “fertilizes or feeds” the plankton essential for the survival of the Ozark cavefish.   Like the gray bat, the Ozark cavefish are specifically located in the limestone Karst areas of the southeastern part of the United States.
Cave Opening

Opening to the Cave Habitat of the Ozark Cavefish

 Besides feeding primarily on plankton, cavefish feed on larval salamanders, tiny crayfish, and yes, even baby cavefish.  The Ozark cavefish has been on the threatened species list since 1984.  A threatened species is classified as one that is likely to become endangered in the future.

Many years ago, the settlers called the Ozark cavefish the “well watcher”.  It was believed that if the blind Ozark cavefish was present in your well then your well water was clean enough to drink.  It would seem that there is some truth to that even today, given that the cavefish live in an extremely specialized and stable environment under the ground. Any major change to their habitat would most certainly have an adverse effect on cavefish populations.   Cavefish are often referred to as an indicator species of water quality, if that water quality starts to decline then so do the cavefish, and if the cavefish are effected, then humans too are going to be effected.
Ozark Cavefish

Ozark Cavefish

Photo: Missouri Department of Conservation

The largest threats to the Ozark cavefish are above ground pollutants working their way into the ground water, which could alter the chemistry of the water that the Ozark cavefish relies on, and of course, human disturbance within the cave.  That’s why the Cave Springs Cave is secured from human entrance to protect the habitat and life cycle of these important populations of threatened and endangered species.

 

Related Posts:

The Endangered Gray Bat Prepares for Winter

 

Additional Resources:

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission

Missouri Department of Conservation