Grotto Sculpins are a Missouri endemic only occurring in the Bois Brule drainage flowing underground through Perry County, MO. They are basically a Banded Sculpin that has adapted to cave life. Visibly, Grotto Sculpins are highly variable in appearance from cave to cave, some with obvious degeneration of pigmentation and shrinking eyes, others look nearly identical to Banded Sculpins.

Grotto Sculpin
Grotto Sculpin
Grotto Sculpin
Grotto Sculpin

Bob Hrabik and I teamed up with the MDC boys from the Jackson, MO field station to do routine monitoring. One particularly exciting location was Mystery Cave. We entered through a crevice in the middle of a pasture, and exited from where the stream breaches the surface as an intermittent trickle. The entry crevice was a vertical shaft I wasn’t sure I could fit through. Our 5 gallon sample bucket sure didn’t. It required a squeeze and some faith ones feet would eventually touch something. The knees and elbows where used to shimmy through the limestone layers. There was a slight dangle, and a drop to a firm bottom. This opened to a massive cathedral type cavern with a stream running through the bottom. At this point, it was time to shed some clothes. I was dressed properly for a brisk early March day. Once in the Earth, thermal insulation of the ground keeps the ambient temperature within the cave a pleasant 55 degrees. Exiting was not as thrilling. It required a 20 yard crawl over piles of deposited rock the stream dropped as surge water breached to the outside world.

Sampling was done with a PVC brailed siene. Within cave environments, the standard 5 foot wooden siene brails are not user friendly. A jointed PVC brailed seine solved this issue. It can be broken down to fit through just about anything. Sculpins were readily found, but few were at a size large enough to obtain a decent image.

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