Friday, June 4, 2010

Quick Robin - to the Bat Cave!!

Dr. Cheeptham points out a possible location to test for new microbes.

Well we weren’t going to the bat caves, and it was far from being a quick trip, so I pretty much got the title wrong – but I did get you to read this far. Back in my newspaper days I learned that the editor/page layout guy’s job was to get a title that grabbed the reader’s attention and need only be remotely related to the subject matter.

So, assuming that you are still with me on this one I can now launch into the story of our trip to the BearCat caves. I had been planning for months to take the Kamloops Naturalist Club to the BearCat caves as I wanted a hike that was a little more strenuous than our standard fare. I also figured that I had best take a pre-scout of the trip to ensure that the hike went without incident – it’s a good thing that I did.

Between the Mountain Pine beetle, the Douglas Fir Tussock moth, and a severe winter storm, the forest surrounding the caves had been decimated. Blowdown was stacked over 2 meters high in places and even the deer would have trouble making their way through the forest now. It was a long slow hike to the caves but we pressed on and were well rewarded for our efforts.

The we in this story, included myself, my father and a new conscript to our adventures: Dr. Naorwarat Cheeptham (Ann).  Ann is an expert in the field of micro-biology and is a professor and researcher at TRU. I had heard of her studies and had invited her along to see if this particular set of caves was suitable for her studies. What she does is very interesting and my understanding of the process is as follows: she collects, and analyzes new strains of microbes found in extreme conditions (in this case, caves) and from these microbes they can find all types of agents that may have uses in medicines and/or extend our knowledge of the “nature of things.”

One of the areas of research that I think is extremely cool is the idea that microbes might be able to communicate with others through the secretion of certain enzymes that signal the existence or lack of food. At a philosophical level this would change our perception of what a sentient being was and would be a great blow to vegetarians the world over.

The hike, although difficult, was pleasant as father was along to point out a great variety of plant life and animal sign to Ann. This kept the two of them occupied while I forged ahead trying to find the path of least resistance through the heaps of blowdown.  Our finds of interest were: Morels, Chanterelles, slime molds, Calypso orchids, Indian paintbrush, and a great variety of mammal poop.

Eventually the caves were reached and Ann and I made our way through the most accessible passageways while father remained above ground. Please note: It is always advisable on a trip like this to keep at least one person above ground to go for help in case the crew gets stranded below. The caving went without incident and after checking out the cave’s suitability for further research (it is) we ascended and fought our way back through the fallen forest to my faithful Ford.

Sneaking up on the dangerous Morel

A splash of gold amongst the greenery - which is my way of saying I don't know what this flower is!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Frank,

    Thank you so much for a fun day of exploration (and I secretly hope that we will have more to come:-). And thanks to your brother, Mike, and father, Ralph, as well. A great family of naturalists!

    When it comes to cave microbiology, it is so fascinating and so mysteriously challenging! My students have made a number of interesting discoveries and we hope to be able to put something together soon, in terms of bacterial identification. Also, it would be nice to know who live there and what type of useful compounds they make for their living and whether those can be potentially used to our benefits:-)

    Our research is still, I can humbly say, in its infancy, but I will definitely keep on finding more answers to these mysterious questions of tiny lives in such extreme habitat.

    Thanks for all the support.


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