Where people get dirty for science

Explore Great Basin National Park with a lifelong caving enthusiast who is "fascinated with the unknown" - and perhaps get bitten by the same caving bug that she did.

Every year, about 30,000 visitors tour the Lehman Caves beneath Great Basin National Park, near the border of Nevada and Utah.

During their half-mile underground journey, people are amazed at the dizzying array of spectacular cave features, from the usual stalactites and stalagmites to bizarre formations like frostwork, moonmilk, parachute shields and rock draperies, all of which seem like inventions from a Dr Seuss storybook.

But according to Great Basin ecologist Gretchen Brown, tourists often miss out on the other spectacular show that is happening all around them: a science fiction collection of creepy crawly critters specifically adapted to life in these caves - with some considered "new to science".

A lifelong caving enthusiast who is "fascinated with the unknown", Brown has been working as an ecologist at Great Basin for the past 15 years.

In that time, she has tracked and catalogued such species as the rhagidid mite, the pseudoscorpion, translucent millipedes and newly resurgent long-eared bats.

"One of the most exciting things in the world is to see cave predation in action!" Brown exclaimed, referencing a battle she witnessed between a pseudoscorpion and a nearly microscopic cave fly.

It's this attention to detail that Brown encourages visitors to embrace on their trip to the park.

She calls Lehman an "intimate" cave, with twists and turns that put people right in the middle of everything.

Watching a tiny drip of water inch its way down a small soda straw opening in the ceiling is to witness the magic of geology in action, she said.

And when the tour stops, instead of snapping pictures of the rock towers, she recommends kneeling down to take a look at the cave floor.

Perhaps you'll see a wiggling centipede darting into a hole.

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