The Glowing Spider-Worms of New Zealand
For over one hundred years, millions of tourists have flocked to the ancient limestone Waitomo Caves on New Zealand’s North Island, where a stunning species of fungus gnat called Arachnocampa luminosa live.
Unique to New Zealand and Australia, they are found in caves, grottoes, and other sheltered places. Arachnocampa means ‘spider-worm,’ as the gnat is known for the way their larvae hang strong vertical silk threads from their underground habitats. Since the larvae are luminescent, the thousands of tiny threads light up cave ceilings like a starry sky.
Playa de Amor - Mexico’s Hidden Beach
Located in the mouth of Banderas Bay are the beautiful Las Marietas Islands, about 22 nautical miles west of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Formed by volcanic activity over thousands of years, the islands are a nationally protected bird sanctuary, also providing shelter for countless marine species. On one of the islands is Playa de Amor, more commonly known as Hidden Beach. To reach this secluded paradise, visitors need to swim through a short tunnel, opening up into the stunning beach seen here. There are a number of tour operators providing day trips to this ecological marvel.
The Crystal Maiden of the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Just outside San Ignacio, Belize in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve is the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. Deep inside the cave, past huge boulders and cavernous rooms, one known as “The Cathedral”, is the skeletons of the ritual sacrifices made by the Maya to their Gods, more than a thousand years ago.
The skeletons range in age from one year old to adult. Four of those sacrificed are infants between the ages of one and three, some of them stuffed into crevices and small adjoining caves. There is one child of seven, a teenager of fifteen who appears to have been bound before being killed, a twenty year old, and the rest are adults between the ages of thirty and forty five. Many of the younger skeletons show sign of cranial deformation or “skull shaping” giving their heads a slightly elongated alien look.
Almost all were killed by blunt trauma to the head with some having had their entire skulls crushed. While the precise dating of the skeletons is difficult (due to their being essentially cemented to the cave floor by calcite) most of the pottery dates from between 700 and 900 AD, which is likely when the bodies found here were sacrificed.
Farther into the cave is the most famous of these long dead Maya, the skeleton of an eighteen year old girl known as the “The Crystal Maiden.”
She is unique in her positioning and the fact that two of her vertebrae are crushed. Because of this researchers believe she may have died in a particularly violent manner and then been thrown or tossed onto the ground, where she has laid for at least the last 1100 years. The skeleton has been there so long in fact that is has been completely calcified, giving her bones a sparkling, slightly plump look, and inspiring the name “The Crystal Maiden.”
It is unknown what the circumstances of the sacrifices were, though some believe they were to appease the rain god Chac, or possibly to the gods of the underworld. Another theory holds that these were believed to be witches and that by leaving them unburied in the cave, their spirits would be trapped there.
The Discovery of the “Cave Robber” Spider - A New Unknown Species
Cavers in the Pacific Northwest have discovered a type of spider so unusual it belongs to an entirely new lineage. Researchers describing the creature gave it a genus name—Trogloraptor, or “cave robber”—that derives from both its home habitat and its remarkable claws. First found dangling from irregular tangles of silken threads on the ceilings of a handful of caves in southwestern Oregon in 2010, the new arachnid (shown above) spans about 4 centimeters, a little larger than a silver dollar, when its legs are fully extended.
Sharp, extraordinarily long claws at the tip of each leg suggest the spiders are fierce predators, but what they prey upon and how they capture it is currently unknown. The discovery of these arachnids is so recent, even their species has yet to be named.
Marble Caves of Chile Chico
The Marble Caves, or Cuevas de Mármol, are one of the most exhilarating and stunning caves to be found anywhere in the world.
The caves, made entirely of marble, were formed when water penetrated the huge blocks of rock and carved them in such a way that they formed beautiful caves and tunnels within the rocks.
Ice Caves in Ireland
Kedareshwar Cave - India
Local legend holds that when the fourth pillar breaks, the world will come to an end. The cave of Kedareshwar, in which there is a big Shivling, is totally surrounded by water. The Shivling (also known as Lingam) is a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva used for worship in temples. Whether the lingam symbolizes the physical body of the god or something purely spiritual is the topic of many a century-old debate within Hinduism. The total height from its base is five feet and the water is waist-deep. It is quite difficult to reach the Shivling, as the water is ice-cold. There are sculptures carved out of the rocks here. In monsoon seasons, it is not possible to reach this cave, as a huge stream flows across its path.
Glowing caves in New Zealand are a popular tourist attraction. The glowing in the caves is caused by bio-luminescent worms hanging from the cave ceiling. Beautiful but definitely odd.