It may seem impossible, but deep in the subterranean rivers of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula creatures seem to be thriving by eating up methane! But isn’t Methane poisonous?
Well actually contrary to popular belief methane is relatively nontoxic, but it does explode. Methane has extreme reactions when mixed with halogen or oxidizers, it is the number one culprit when you look into mining disasters. But the real miracle of the matter is that Methane is an asphyxiant, which means it forces oxygen out of the area. That means these creatures have somehow found a way to survive with relatively no oxygen at all!
The Ox Bel Hel cave is in folklore the path to the mysterious Mayan underworld, the Mayan culture believed that through these underwater caves you could make your way into the underworld. However, it is also unique for scientific reasons it has two layers of water. Freshwater on the top from the rain that falls into holes and then salty sea water that comes up from the ocean. Well for the first time researchers have been able to study the caves with new techniques such as using deep sea diving machinery.
And they discovered a fascinating reality, here in the depths of these underwater caves methane that was trapped under the jungle floor was not traveling up towards the atmosphere as it normally does. It was being pushed downwards into the water where it was promptly gobbled up by hungry bacteria and other microorganisms – maybe they are just scared it will explode? Well, this bacteria and microbes were the fuel for the whole ecosystem of the underwater caves, shrimp, for example, will then feed off them. Therefore you find an ecosystem where their nutrition is entirely dependant on methane which unheard of anywhere else in the world.
Scientists and researchers alike believe this finding is an important discovery in understanding how species adapt to living in oxygen-depleted zones and surviving in areas that have no visible evidence of food. With this information, they should be able to gain an even better understanding of how creatures live at very deep sea levels or other cave systems.