01  title page Scutigera in C215 Cape Range WA  Photo GKSmith cropped

Life in Caves

Cave-dwelling animals, or troglofauna, fall into three groups, according to how much time the organism spends in the cave.

Troglobites live permanently underground and cannot survive outside the cave environment. In these creatures, senses such as touch and smell are heightened – they may develop long antennae or sensory hairs to help them move around and find food – while under-used senses such as eyesight, as well as skin pigmentation (colour), may be lost.
Food for a troglobite may include vegetable matter; bacteria; the eggs, carcases and droppings of trogloxene species; or even, in some cases, other troglobites!

Troglophiles (‘cave lovers’) are creatures which can survive outside the cave, but may prefer to live in it. Examples include some beetles and cockroaches. Troglophiles are usually partially cave-adapted, and capable of completing their life-cycle there.

Trogloxenes (‘cave visitors’) are creatures which use the cave for shelter, perhaps to roost, give birth or hibernate), but cannot live their whole lives there. They have no particular adaptations to life in caves. Familiar examples are bats.
Together, troglophiles and trogloxenes make up the non-troglobites. Years of study may be needed to know whether a particular species is a troglophile or a trogloxene!


The zones of a cave. While troglobites thrive in the deep cave zone, non-troglobites generally favour the outer zones.


Acknowledements: Thanks are due to Drs Bill Humphreys, Tim Moulds, Julianne Waldock and Corey Whisson, all of the WA Museum, for assistance with species identification. If you find any inaccuracies, please let us know via the Contact form 


Frogs are frequently encountered in the damper caves, where they appear quite comfortable. However, they cannot complete their entire life cycle there, as tadpoles require sunlight to metamorphose into adult frogs.

 02 Motorbike frog Litoria moorei

Motorbike frog (Litoria moorei) in a cave in the south-west.



Banjo frog (Limnodynastes dorsalis) in a cave at Yanchep.


FrogSystem   clife4

  Quite often frogs are found getting some exercise by climbing cavers’ ropes. Indeed, this method of climbing ropes with mechanical ascenders is known as the ‘frog system’.

Tadpoles have also been found (below), but will not develop fully without sunlight. They may swim out along the stream in the cave.


Caves attract spiders of many different families. Whereas many use the cave for shelter and for breeding, others can only survive there (i.e. they are troglobites).

 05 Spider Bengalla bertmaini

This ctenid spider, Bengalla bertmaini, is found only in caves of the Cape Range. We can tell it is troglobitic because it has no eyes.


06 Bengalla sp. troglobite

Also a troglobite collected from a Cape Range cave, this specimen may be a new species of the genus Bengalla.


07 Cindy yanchep Pholcus phalangioides skull or cellar spider

The skull or cellar spider (Pholcus phalangioides), photographed at Yanchep.


08 Pholcus phalangioides

Pholcus phalangioides in a cave with its egg sack.


09 Baiami volucripes Male Tp SH enhanced

Baiami volucripes in a cave near Cervantes. Note the palps or ‘boxing gloves’ which tell us this is a male specimen.


10 YN126 Spider BDeWaele Pisaurid

Spider of the family Pisauridae in a Yanchep cave.


11 RAnderson Napiers 2013 13

Unidentified spider - cave in the Napier Range, West Kimberley.


12 RAnderson Napiers Uloborid

Family Uloboridae (?) - cave in the Napier Range, West Kimberley.


13 RAnderson Napiers Sparassidae

Family Sparassidae - cave in the Napier Range, West Kimberley.


14 RAnderson Napiers Miturgid Q

Family Miturgidae - cave in the Napier Range, West Kimberley.


15 CIndy millcave spiderbabies 1

Recently hatched spiderlings in a south-west cave.



Many bats roost and breed in caves, and also hibernate there in colder climates, but they are only visitors – they must emerge eventually to feed. However, they may venture far into the dark zone because they can navigate by echolocation.


16 Bats in Shothole Canyon (C64) Photo GKSmithv2

Bats – probably inland cave bats (Vespadelus findlaysoni) – roosting in a cave at the Cape Range.


17 An indignant Common Sheathtail bat

An indignant common sheathtail bat (Taphozous georgianus), also at the Cape Range.