It’s not easy being green, or orange for that matter. According to New Scientist, explorers in Gabon’s Abanda cave system have discovered subterranean crocs with vibrant orange skin (no relation to Mario Batali’s footwear). And it’s because of bat poop.
Researchers first headed into the African cave network, known as “The Crocodile Cave” to study the strange cave-dwelling animals. These unique crocodiles live underground for most of their lives feeding on the copious population of bats and crickets that live inside the caves. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how they survive down there since, while food is plentiful, the cave ecosystem does not provide a good place for the animals to lay their eggs and reproduce. The crocodiles likely leave their underground shelter in order to lay their eggs and then return with their children for the easy feasting.
As the researchers got deeper into the caves, they began to discover that the older crocs became paler, and that some of them had even turned a shade of orange. These orange crocodiles are the result of a lifetime of swimming in the waters of the cave. The cave’s large bat population also produces a large amount of guano that falls into the cave waters where the crocs swim. One researcher described the waters as little more than “an alkaline slurry formed from bat droppings.” The chemicals in the bat poop eventually erode the crocodile skin, and turn it orange.
Because the crocs don’t live exclusively in the cave, they are not likely to start adapting like other cave-dwelling animals, going blind, having naturally pale skin. But even half a life in those caves leaves its mark.