WATCH: Billions of Bugs Feast on Flesh and Dung in Borneo

If a bat is alive when it hits the cave floor, it won't be for long. Bugs can skeletonize a bat with impressive speed.

The Gomantong Caves in Borneo are the type of place that makes most people want to tuck their socks into their pants and run the other way. First imagine the amount of feces that millions of bats and swiftlets produce … and then imagine how many feces-feasting bugs that would attract. And that’s exactly what you have to walk through in order to explore what some have dubbed “the Cockroach Cave.”

Cave ecologist and National Geographic grantee Donald McFarlane says he finds the bird and bat guano “spectacular” because of all the life it sustains. The cockroaches are “innumerable,” he says, and “in some places their numbers are so dense that there is almost no space between one cockroach and the next.”

Cockroaches aren’t the only frights in the cave. Injured or dying birds and bats, as well as a mix of living and dead flies, ticks, and other bugs, rain down from above. Expedition member Keith Christenson says that while working in caves, scientists also need to be on high alert for “wheelbarrow-loads of guano that calve off from above,” as the stench can stick to you for several days—because, he says, “It’s really hard to wash out all the small bits of insect exoskeleton that are in the mix.”

While the scientists try to avoid the droppings that are dropping, hungry insects on the ground make a mad dash for the falling dung—that is if they’re not already feasting on a dead or dying bat.

If a bat is alive when it hits the cave floor, it won’t be for long. Bugs can skeletonize a bat with impressive speed. (Photo courtesy Keith Christenson)

With dung-feasting bugs all around them and creepy-crawly creatures falling from above them, “the invertebrate experience is overwhelming,” McFarlane says.

But for McFarlane, it’s overwhelming in a fascinating way. “In —> Read More

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