Nearly 1,000 species within the lower 48 states live exclusively in caves. Conserving these complex subterranean ecosystems represents important work, since they serve as a bridge between forested habitats located above ground and groundwater resources found below.
Caves harbor many species about which little is known, including a variety of crustaceans, insects and arachnids. At Aitkin Cave, rare cave isopods—tiny shrimp-like creatures—are found in the underground streams and pools at the bottom of the cave.
Historic records dating back to the 1930s also identify Aitkin Cave as one of the premier bat hibernacula in Pennsylvania. Today, the cave serves as a winter home for several species of bats, including little brown bats, northern long-eared bats, eastern pipistrelles, rare small-footed bats, big brown bats and the federally endangered Indiana bat.
The Nature Conservancy added Aitkin Cave and the surrounding 45-acre Mifflin County property to its system of Pennsylvania nature preserves in 1992 thanks to the generosity of the late Richard O. Rowlands, a long-time conservationist and TNC supporter. It represents TNC’s first cave conservation acquisition and effort in Pennsylvania.