Scientists Have Found Rare Tiny Creatures In Pools Inside Whisky Smugglers Caves

They must have been splashing around and having a pool party.


Dr. Beccy Corkill

Custom Content Manager

clockAug 12 2022, 16:25 UTC
Cave, light in corner, water, smoo cave
Smoo Cave, Donald McMurdo’s favorite place. Image credit: Lukas Bischoff Photograph/

The Smoo Caves in Scotland is a remarkable and magnificent natural sea cave that is located in the North West Highlands. The cave itself is one of the largest openings for a sea cave in Britain. Smoo Caves have a fascinating history, and are linked to whisky smugglers and a possible favored killing spot of a highway man in the 16th Century called Donald McMurdo… yes really – who use to dispose of his victims bodies by throwing them into the caves blowhole.  

Along with having a fantastic name (likely to of originated from Norse ‘smuga’ or ‘smjugg’ meaning hiding-place or hole), scientists have also discovered some marvelous and rare creatures in the pools of the Smoo Caves and also in Allt nan Uamh Stream Cave (also known as ‘Bone Caves’ as it was once filled with bones of ancient predators). These creatures are ostracods and the preliminary research has been published in the Cave and Karst Science


There is a lack of systematic studies that looked at the aquatic invertebrate fauna in British caves. So, between 2015-2017, this research group put on their brightly-colored waterproof clothing, grabbed their favorite nets, and surveyed 32 different caves in Scotland.

The discovery of the ostracods could be the first for Scotland, however, more research needs to be conducted to see if they are found elsewhere. Ostracods are microscopic crustaceans that are one millimetre in size. The body is covered in a hard outer shell and the body is made up of sections.

“Styglobitic creatures live entirely below the earth’s surface and preliminary findings show that one particular ostracod could be the first recorded in Scotland.” Said Lee Knight, one of the authors to BBC.

“The specimens have been tentatively identified as Fabaeformiscandona latens from Allt nan Uamh Stream Cave and Smoo Cave, these are of importance because records of this genus are very rare in Britain.”


When describing the survey they conducted, the team wrote: “It is purely descriptive in nature, with no attempt to assess population levels aside from the relative abundancies of various species within the communities.”

“Most caves, with the exception of a few larger systems, were sampled at single locations only and on a single visit. Thus, the taxa lists do not represent complete taxonomic inventories of the aquatic invertebrates that are likely to occur within the caves. Repeated sampling over the course of multiple seasons will be required to achieve this goal, and it is hoped that this initial work will both promote further interest and encourage more detailed studies of Scottish biospeleology.”

Here is hoping, we will see more brightly dressed scientists sampling cave streams and pools in the future.

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