Thanks to Yvan Defoy.

Sorry, I don't have a reference for this, or even a date. It's probably the London Times though.

A cave near the Black Sea, sealed for millions of years, has been found by explorers to contain 31 new species of creature that have evolved without sunlight.


DETAILS of a lost world cut off for more than five million years and containing 31 unknown species were described to American scientists yesterday. Rising floodwaters forced the occupants of a Romanian cave to leave behind the normal rules of life on Earth at a time when man's nearest relatives were still living as apes.

The creatures have evolved to live in darkness, without photosynthesis capturing energy from the sun, and instead live on chemical energy provided by an atmosphere of hydrogen sulphide, which would be poisonous to most life on the planet.

They were discovered when the ape-like creatures, now human beings, drilling the foundations for a nuclear power plant, unexpectedly broke through to the Mobile cave near Mangalia, close to the Black Sea coast, in 1986. A biologist, Serban Sarbu, began exploration when the plant was abandoned because of the unfavourable geology. His studies ended when he fled the Ceausescu dictatorship and were resumed only in 1990, after the regime fell.

Yesterday Mr Sarbu, now at the University of Cincinatti, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science how all the food consumed by the creatures in the cave came from the energy produced by the oxidation of hydrogen sulphide, a gas given off by natural sulphur springs. The creatures who have survived, and in some cases evolved range from bacteria to spiders, beetles and scorpions. The closest known parallels are communities of creatures living around vents on the ocean floor. Mr Sarbu said that the cave was just a small part of an ecosystem that spread underground over 100 square kilometres. "We are looking at the entire groundwater ecosystem," he said. "This articular cave is just one room in a whole maze of passages that are not accessible to us."

Most of the unusual animals are found in air pockets which can be reached only by diving. The theory is that they became isolated from the outside world when the level of the Black Sea fell about 5 1/2 million years ago. At that time, man's nearest ancestors are believed to have been the "southern apes" of Africa.

The walls of the caves and the surface of the subterranean lakes are covered by a dense mat of microbes. DNA analysis confirms that species have been isolated for a long time. An isopod - a relative of the pill bug - has been isolated from its relations for nearly one million years, and a water scorpion appears to have evolved for between two and five million years. The microbes may be the reason for the cave system being so extensive, Mr Sarbu says. "We know that the oxidation of hydrogen sulphide will eventually lead to the formation of sulphuric acid, which will attack the limestone rock."

The animals include spiders, leeches, snails, beetles, and a range of water-living creatures including nematode worms. All show a condition known as troglomorphy, with pale-coloured bodies, a reduction or complete loss of the eyes, and antennae of gigantic proportions which they use to find their way about in the dark. Of the 47 species found in the caves, 31 were new.

Now the explorers are trying to make sure that their arrival does not upset the underworld. Working in such an unusual environment is difficult. Even breathing can cause problems, said Mr Sarbu's wife, Lumanita, a biologist who is part of the investigating team.

"Once you start breathing depleted oxygen, the invertebrates are used to a certain level of oxygen and start running away." To minimise such problems, only three people are allowed in the caves at any one time.