Inside the ROM's Bat Cave: What Visitors Will See in the Updated, Larger, and More Mysterious Exhibit

By Eger, Judith | ROM Magazine, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Inside the ROM's Bat Cave: What Visitors Will See in the Updated, Larger, and More Mysterious Exhibit


Eger, Judith, ROM Magazine


Many tens of thousands of feet have paraded through the ROM's Bat Cave since it opened in January 1988. This extremely popular exhibit has been through several refurbishings over the years, but the time has come for a major overhaul. The exhibit will be closed for several months while we build a larger, more interactive, and more mysterious version of this family favourite--the new Bat Cave will re-open February 27, 2010.

The cave is a realistic portrayal of St. Clair Cave in Jamaica, a complex, 3-km-long cave formed by an underground river that runs through limestone rock across the centre of the island. Four years in the making, the original exhibit was based on fieldwork done in March 1984 by a ROM team that included several artists and a mammal preparator who were also naturalists, a photographer, and a biology professor who specialized in bat echolocation--even a crew from the CBC was there to film the work for an episode of David Suzuki's The Nature of Things.

The team documented all aspects of the cave. The wildlife included bats, invertebrates, and birds living in the mouth of the cave and the predators that take advantage of this easy food source--feral cats and boas. The artists took casts of the walls and roof of the cave system, including the rocks and stalactites and stalagmites--everything but the temperature and smell of the cave was ultimately reproduced.

Designers of the 2010 Bat Cave are drawing on the original research as well as a more recent field trip to Jamaica. While much of the cave's original structure will remain, the refinished and recoloured version will have a more realistic floor, lower light levels, and a more mysterious atmosphere. New sound effects will mingle with the familiar sounds of dripping water and squeaking bats.

And, there'll be more bats. New artist reconstructions of six of the ten bat species known to inhabit the cave--a nectar feeder, a fruit eater, and four insectivorous bats--can be seen close up.

And unlike the previous models, some will be in motion--grooming and stretching--communicating a new sense of life within the cave. The nursery area will be better lit and may also have a moving mother and young. Joining the reintroduced original invertebrates--the tailless whip scorpions, wolf spiders, crickets, crabs, birds, and boa--will be cockroaches, scavenger and ground beetles, and assassin bugs.

The highlight of the exhibit has always been the dramatization of the actual nightly exodus when thousands of bats take flight, leaving their daytime refuge to hunt for food before returning to the roost by dawn. The restaging of this event promises to be even more spectacular.

The aim of the new effects is to make visitors feel they are in a real cave.

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Inside the ROM's Bat Cave: What Visitors Will See in the Updated, Larger, and More Mysterious Exhibit
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