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Birds and Mammals Research 

February 17, 2009

Exploring Warofeni Cave

Warofeni Cave downstream

Here is the entrance to Warofeni Cave, near Fogomai’u Village. The entrance is quite large, and a decent-sized stream flows out from the cave. You can see our local naturalist, Albert, standing on some breakdown just across the creek. When we arrived the water level was down low enough that we could wade in, and the water was just above our knees in the shallowest points for crossing. Then we could climb over the breakdown to move our way into the cave.

Warofeni first bend

Once in the cave, there was a large pebbly bank that we could walk on, and on which we set up nets to catch bats and swifts. Over two days, we documented four species, and I took viral samples while Alanna took measurements, DNA samples, and recorded vocalizations.

Cave swift

We caught many small swiftlets exiting the cave at dawn, just as the bats were all returning. These appeared to be Collocalia vanikorensis, the Uniform Swiftlet in nearly every respect, however they had a single strip of feathers on the tarsus that is not supposed to be present in this species. We also collected a dozen or more huge Hippoboscid flies, or bat flies, that crawled around in the feathers of the birds. It was amazing how large these parasites were – they usually suck blood from their host, so one could only imagine how unpleasant these must have been for these tiny swifts. (Photo by Alanna Maltby)

Warofeni side entrance

On our second day, we ventured down a different side entrance to the cave that was packed with stalactites and stalagmites, soda straws, and flowstones. It led directly into the main shaft, but a significant distance upstream of the large opening shown in the previous photos. We also found very different species in this section of the cave, including the Rhinolophus species shown below and one small Vespertilionid bat. We hope to return and try to catch another of this rare little bat. (Photo by Alanna Maltby)


Although this Rhinolophus is also called a horse-shoe bat, it is in a different family than the Hipposideros bat that we found around camp. They are amazing fliers and echo-locaters, and we only found them in the deepest smallest shafts of the cave. We caught them by trying to hold nets up over a constriction in the passageway, and all but a couple of the bats managed to find small holes in the net to fly through or were able to squeeze through tiny gaps between the net and the cave wall. It was amazing how they could “see” the net so well using sound pulses and echolocation! (Photo by Alanna Maltby)

Warofeni upstream entrance

At the opposite end of the cave, we found a large emerald green pool that looked very deep, and the locals mentioned that there were many large species of fish that could be caught there. We hope to return with Phil Willink (our ichthyologist from the Field Museum in Chicago) to document which fish species are present here. Overall, our reconnaissance trip was very productive both biologically and photographically. The biological team is considering launching a larger expedition with entomologists, ichthyologists, and herpetologists and with full video camera support to document our work here. We hope that time will permit us to return.

Green Tree Python

Allen caught this green tree python near camp. These are striking species (pun intended) with bright green or yellow scales, spotted with white on the dorsal side. Note the row of large heat-sensing organs on the sides of the face below the eyes. They hunt for warm-blooded prey in trees, and typically constrict their catch. They are not venomous.

Funky caterpillar

And these odd little caterpillars arrived in camp one day. We constantly have interesting animals and plants that the scientific team brings in, but there are often so many cameras in camp that it is difficult for me to squeeze in next to the professionals and get a shot. On this particular day, everyone was distracted by something else, and I had a spare moment with no birds to look after, so I took a few photos myself…

Filed under: Winter 2009 Expedition — @ 4:01 pm


  1. You write: “We also collected a dozen or more huge Hippoboscid flies, or bat flies, that crawled around in the feathers of the bats.” Bats do not have feathers. Do you mean that the bat flies were crawling in the feathers of the swiftlets?

    Comment by Bill Tyler — March 1, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

  2. Excellent photos, Jack and very interesting accounts of your adventures! I’ll check back periodically, and have a safe, productive expedition.

    Comment by Steve Dumbacher — March 9, 2009 @ 6:20 am

  3. Thanks – yes – they are in the BIRD’S feathers and the BAT’S fur! These Hippoboscid flies, commonly called “bat flies” are found on birds and bats.

    Comment by jdumbacher — March 23, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

  4. a cave always amazed me

    Comment by asti — December 22, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

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