The invertebrate fauna of the caves of the Uinta Mountains, northeastern Utah
The in vertebrate fauna of the caves of the Uinta Mountains, northeastern Utah
Stewart B. Peck 0 1
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1 Carleton University , Ottawa , Canada
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.\bstract.— Seven large caves in the Uinta Mountains, Utah, were surveyed for their invertebrate faunas.
Thirtveight species were found, and 30 of these are typical cave inhabitants. Diptera are the predominant group.
Caverestricted species are an aniphipod, two diplurans, and possibly a Rhat:,idi(i mite. The caves were probablv
uninhabitable in the past glacial because of severe periglacial environmental conditions, and the faunas have moved into the
present cave sites since deglaciation of the Uintas.
Since the helpful checklist of
, much additional survey work has
been completed on the cavernicolous
invertebrate faunas of the United States
review in Peck and Lewis 1978)
gaps still exist in certain western states, and
these should be filled in an attempt to
achieve a comprehensive understanding and
a unified general theory of the evolution and
distribution of North American cave
(Peck 1978, 1981)
The Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah
are ringed by limestone and contain many
caves, but no effort seems to have been made
to characterize their fauna. Field work was
conducted in August 1979 to remedy this.
Extensive information is available on the
caves of Utah, although much of it exists in
obscure publications. A general overview of
Utah speleology is given by
discusses karst landforms in
the Uinta Mountains. Brief information on
the caves studied follows. These are the
largest known in the Uintas and are the most
likely to have a variety of microhabitats, and
thus to support the greatest diversity of
Cave locations are shown in Figure 1.
They are indicated on USGS topographic
maps and on U.S. Forest Service maps of the
Ashley and Uinta Forests. All the caves are
formed in the Madison and Deseret
» 6t.i- <^Jr5»T^^ t <3^^DFR0RyK BCR^EiEiKlnV \
stones of Mississippian age. Because caves are
fragile environments, excessive and careless
visitation to them should not be encouraged.
road 104, about 9700 ft elev., about 15 mi
NNW of Lapoint.
The cave's slotlike entrance is at the
bottom of an aspen-lined sink. The cave consists
solely of a low chamber 30 feet wide and 60
feet long, floored with dirt and much ice.
The fauna is concentrated on the cave ceiling
and uses the cave as a daytime retreat or as
an aestivation site. When insects die they fall
to the ice and may be preserved there. Other
arthropods are in litter and decaying debris
at the base of the entrance slope. The air
temperature was 4 C (RH 85 percent) 3 ft
above the ice.
Whiterocks Cave, Duchesne County, Sec.
1, T 2 N, R 1 W, about 8000 ft elev., high on
cliffs above Whiterocks River Canyon, about
10 mi N of Whiterocks, or 15 mi NNW of
The gated cave entrance is reached by an
arduous climb. Entry is allowed only with
forestry personnel and arrangements must be
made with the Vernal office several weeks in
advance. This is a large cave of irregular
dimensions, and it is certainly in need of
protection to conserve it. Much of this cave,
about 3000 ft long, is generally moist but
lifeless, and fauna was found associated with
moist rat dung only near the entrance. Many
dripstone pools are present but are also
barren of life. The temperature was 7.5 C (RH
94 percent). The abundant packrat middens
may contain a valuable record of past
climatic and floristic changes in the area of the
(see Van Devender and Spaulding
Pole Creek Cave, Duchesne County, Sec.
24, T 3 N, R 2 W, off forest road 117, around
7000 ft elev., about 12 mi NW of Whiterocks
or 23 mi NNW of Roosevelt.
The cave entrance is a flood-water stream
resurgence at the base of a limestone slope.
The sink of Pole Creek is a broad area about
V2 mi north. The low entrance leads to a large
ascending stream passage floored with sand,
mud, and water-sculptured rock. About 600
ft of passage exists before a deep pool floods
the cave from wall to wall. The air
temperature was 8.5 C (RH 87 percent) and the
water was 8 C. The fauna was on damp soil near
scarce bits of organic debris, or on the ceiling
at the entrance.
Sheep Creek Cave, Daggett County, Sec.
16, T 2 N, R 19 E, at 7040 ft elev., about 7
mi SW of Manila.
The cave is formed in vertical limestones
on the west wall of Sheep Creek Canyon
where this intersects the Uinta Crest fault.
The Forest Service has protected the cave
entrance, some 30 m above the cave stream
resurgence, by a gate, but this has been
vandalized. The main cave passage is the
abandoned upper level of the stream that now
resurges at a lower level. I judge the ashy
nature of much of the cave floor, the "burnt"
smell in the cave, and the soot-darkened
ceiling to indicate that large accumulations of
organic matter, such as packrat nests,
formerly existed here but have been burned.
This likely happened in or before 1950, and
is regrettable because a valuable
(see Van Devender and
has been mostly lost. A few
isolated middens still exist near the entrance.
The "burned" part of the cave is barren.
Lower levels near the stream had a sparse
fauna on mud banks. The stream seems to
carry only finely divided organic matter. The
air temperature was 9.5 C (RH 94 percent) at
the stream and the stream was 9 C.
Annotated Faunal List
one cave record from Texas
Onychiurus ramosus Folsom, K. Christiansen
Whiterocks Cave, on moist rat dung. The
species is widespread across the United
States, with only two cave records from
(Christiansen and Bellinger 1980:453)
Tomocerus flavescens (Tullberg), K.
Christiansen det., troglophile.
Big Brush Creek Cave, Little Brush Creek
Cave, Pole Creek Cave.
notes that the species is spread across the
continent and is known from caves in 14
Haplocampa sp., L. M. Ferguson det.,
Pole Creek Cave. This is a new species
with an unusual morphology. The genus
contains cavernicolous species in Illinois,
Missouri, California, and Washington; and
epigean species in California, Montana, Oregon,
Washington, and Alberta.
Haplocampa sp., L.M. Ferguson det.,
Sheep Creek Cave, Little Brush Creek
Cave, Big Brush Creek Cave. This is a new
species and may represent a new genus.
Bembidion sp., accidental.
Big Brush Creek Cave, on flood debris.
Rhadine sp., troglophile.
Dry Forks Cave, one dead on sand bank.
Quedius spelaeus Horn, troglophile.
Dry Forks Cave, many in Neotoma dung
and nest debris. The species occurs across the
continent, frequently in caves
Genus and species undetermined,
Ice Cave, two in entrance debris. These
are in the subfamily Aleocharinae, which is
frequently found in caves.
Aphodins sp., accidental.
Ice Cave, three in entrance debris.
Leptocera sp., R. Vockeroth det., trogloxene
Ice Cave, Dry Forks Cave.
Megascelia sp., R. Vockeroth det., trogloxene
Genus and species undetermined, trogloxene
Genus and species imdetermined, accidental.
A total of 38 species were found in caves
in the Uinta Mountains. Of these, 30 species
are in taxa that are typical of caves and
cavelike habitats in North America in their
behavioral, ecological, and evolutionary
characteristics. The only true cave-limited species
are the amphipod, 2 diplurans, and possibly
the Rhadidia mite.
As habitats, the caves themselves are
probably preglacial in time of origin, especially
White Rocks Cave. The caves may not have
been overridden by the Pleistocene piedmont
and valley glaciers coming from the Uinta
Mountain uplands (Atwood 1904, Hansen
1975), but they would have suffered extreme
and prolonged flooding and scouring by
meltwater streams. The caves were probably
uninhabited during glacials because they
were colder, there was less food input due to
periglacial climatic conditions, and because
of meltwater scouring. Thus, the fauna
probably represents an occupation of caves
sometime in the past 10,000 years since the last
glacial. In this respect the fauna is very
similar to that of Ontario, Canada, caves which
have been occupied since the last glacial, and
have an abundance of trogloxenic diptera
(Peck, unpubl. ms.).
The amphipod may be an exception to this
) thinks that
some groundwater amphipods may have
existed under glacial ice masses, but I am
inclined to keep open the alternative of
movement from unglaciated peripheral refugia,
through interstices in groundwater, into the
area after deglaciation
(Peck and Lewis
. A large fauna is known to live in the
west in the interstices of gravels and coarse
streamside sediments (Stanford and Gaufin
1974), which knowledge supports the
possibility of such faunal movements.
Future research can contribute by
surveying cave faunas in the western Uintas.
The area of greatest present ignorance of
cave faunas is in the details of their life
cycles and seasonal dynamics. Most rewarding
would be careful ecological study of the
troglobites or of the trogloxenic Diptera.
We thank Forest Ranger Mike Bergfeld
and Forest Recreation Officer Tom Contreras
of the Vernal U.S. Forest Service Office for
allowing study in White Rocks Cave. The
field work was supported by operating grants
of the Canadian Natural Sciences and
Engineering Research Council to investigate the
distribution and ecology of subterranean
faunas. The help of the many taxonomists
with determinations is deeply appreciated.
196.3c. Little Brush Creek, Kaler, and Capture
Caves (Uintah Comity, Utah). Salt Lake Grotto
(National Speleological Society), Technical Note
56 (March 1961). Reprinted in 1963 Speleo
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Elliott , W. R. 1976 . New cavernicolous Rhagidiidae from Idaho , Washington, and Utah (Prostigmata: Acari: Arachnida). Occ. Pap. Mus. Texas Tech. Univ., no. 43 , 15 pp.
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