Life finds a way in La Cueva del Viento

Life emerges in surprising places. Wherever we look, if we pay attention, we will see animals and plants that fight for survival.  In the depths of the ocean, on top of mountains, in deserts, in polar regions and also in the perpetual darkness of caves.

Even in places where sunlight has never penetrated, life finds a way in the form of specialised organisms.  This is the case of the largest volcanic tube in the Canary Islands: La Cueva del Viento.

Located in the pueblo of Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife.  This volcanic structure is home to a series of invertebrates that are unique to this subterranean system and endemic to La Cueva del Viento. When we enter into the volcanic tube our first impression is that we are walking in an inhospitable and abandoned terrain. It is hard to imagine an ecosystem in an environment with no sunlight, however with attentive and patient observation we can discover another reality.

Biologists differentiate between two types of inhabitants of caves or volcanic tubes: animals who spend part of their lives in them, such as bats, and those who live inside them and never go outside.  The latter are without a doubt the most interesting to researchers.

Biological studies in La Cueva del Viento started in the 1970s. From the first moment researchers found insects that science had not yet discovered and that were unique in the world. This was the  case of the eyeless  cockroach Loboptera subterránea or the carabidae Wolltinerfia martíni and Woltinerfia tenerifae . In the 1980s scientists explored the cave again in search of new animals, and they found them. To date they have discovered a total of 130 species of invertebrates, a surprising number if we consider the harsh living conditions that exist in an environment like this one.

The invertebrates that live in La Cueva del Viento have adapted to absolute darkness and the scarcity of food. For this reason, the majority of the species that we find in the subsoil have no eyes, however, to compensate they have developed other senses such as touch. The majority of these tiny animals have large antennae that help them find prey and relate with other members of their species.

But La Cueva del Viento also reveals the biological history of the island. In its interior a large amount of fossilized remains have been found of extinct vertebrate animals, such as the giant rat and lizard, and other bone remains of species that have since disappeared on Tenerife, such as the  rook (bird) and the Houbara Bustard.

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