Caves have existed since time immemorial, most of which result from the effects of acidic water on karst. Given that they take a lot of time to develop, scientists use isotopic dating techniques to asses cave deposits. Today, different types of caves are available, each with its own specific characteristics. Keep reading to find out more fascinating facts about caves.

1. The Sport of Exploring Caves Is Called Spelunking

Especially in Canada and the United States, the sport of exploring caves is called spelunking. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, it is called potholing, while the rest of the world knows it as caving. It is often categorized as an “extreme sport” even though enthusiasts do not consider it so. On the other hand, speleology is the scientific study of caves.

2. Many Caves Remain Unexplored

According to scientists, the number of unexplored caves around the world is more than the ones already known to man. In fact, the specialists say that only 1% have been found, with the other 99% of the caving terrain remaining undiscovered. There are more than 45,000 explored caves in the United States alone.

3. The Cosquer Cave’s Entrance Is Underwater

Located in France, Cosquer Cave’s entrance is 37 meters (121ft) underwater. Interestingly, its walls have drawings of various animals, which experts approximate to be more than 27,000 years old. This suggests many physical changes have happened there since the drawings were made.

4. The World’s Biggest Cave Is in Vietnam

Based on volume, Son Doong is considered the largest cave in the world. The Vietnam-based cave was found by Ho Khanh, a Vietnamese logger turned cave guide, in 1991. Due to its extra-wide cross-section, the cave is home to a fast-flowing river; its name was translated from Vietnamese as “cave of the mountain river.” It is so big that trees grow inside and has its own park.

5. Some Caves Have No Entrances

Some caves have no entrances, making most of them unexplored. According to experts, even though entranceless caves are difficult to spot, some might be just 50 meters below your standing surface. People have often made entrances to such areas through drilling and other feasible methods.

6. Mammoth Cave Is the World’s Longest-Known Cave

While Son Doong is the largest cave in the world by volume, Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest-known cave. Located in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, USA, it boasts more than 400 miles of exploration, and it is one of the oldest tourist attractions in the United States; it is at least 10 million years old. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

7. It Takes Millions of Years for Caves to Form and Grow

Caves form and grow through a process known as speleogeneis. Surprisingly, this takes millions of years; the dissolving of the karst (a landscape where the dissolving bedrock results in caves, sinking holes, and springs) takes more than 100,000 years to make enough space for a person.

A combination of chemical reactions, atmospheric influences, microbes, pressure, water erosion, and tectonic forces result in caves.

8. It’s Impossible for a Cave to Be Deeper than 3,000 Meters

According to scientists, caves can’t vertically extend more than 3,000 meters (3 kilometers). This can be attributed to the pressure from the overlying rocks. However, this does not affect the depth of a cave measured from the highest entrance to the lowest point. The pressure a rock can exert on the lowest point depends on the landscape topography above it.

9. Some Caves Are Pitch Black

The reason why cavers carry headlamps is because caves can be pitch black; they are not the same as sitting in a dark room. An individual can stay in a cave for hours without seeing anything, necessitating the need for lighting and more backups.

10. There Are Sea Caves

While most explored caves are predominantly on dry land, some form due to sea wave action; they are known as sea or littoral caves. Even though there are many such caves worldwide, some are more popular. They include New Zealand’s Matainaka Cave (the biggest sea cave), Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, and the Blue Grotto of Capri.

11. The State of Tennessee Has The Most Explored Caves in The United States

With over 10,000 explored caves, the State of Tennessee is home to about 20% of the United States caves. The majority of these physical features are habitats for cave-adapted wildlife, while others have fascinating historical elements, including pre-historic housing artwork. Other states with commendable numbers include Kentucky, Missouri, and Alabama.

12. An Animal That Can Only Survive Inside a Cave Is Called a Troglobite

Sometimes known as cave dwellers, troglobites are animal species that can only survive in underground habitats such as caves. Examples include the endangered Texas blind salamanders, cave spiders, cave beetles, and some types of harvestmen. At the time of writing, more than 7700 species of troglobites have been discovered.

13. A Medical Student Was Trapped and Buried in the Nutty Putty Cave in 2009

While spelunking in the Nutty Putty cave in Utah County, Utah, in 2009, John Edward Jones was stuck and subsequently died after being trapped for 28 hours. The medical student and three others had left to explore the “The Birth Canal,” a section of the cave with a tight but navigable passageway. Unfortunately, John Jones took the wrong path and couldn’t turn back. His body was left there to date, and the cave closed.

14. Caves Are Prone to Flooding

Given how caves are formed, it’s no surprise they are prone to flooding– think of them as water highways. As such, cavers are often advised to be aware of such threats, given they have been catastrophic in the past. The case of Thai soccer players who were trapped in a cave for 18 days after it flooded is a perfect example.

15. A Copy of the Diamond Sutra Printed in 868 Was Discovered in a Sealed Cave in 1900

The was a sealed cave discovered in Gansu Province, China, in 1900 that contained over 1000 scrolls and 15,000 Buddhist texts. A copy of the Diamond Sutra, one of East Asia’s most influential Mahayana Sutras, believed to have been printed in 868, was also found in the cave. The cave is believed to have been sealed around 1002.

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Last Update: December 1, 2023