Wildlife & Habitat

Spring Opening

Turnback cave and Hearell Springs provide critical habitat for the threatened Ozark cavefish species.

  • Ozark Cavefish

    Ozark Cavefish

    The Ozark cavefish was listed as a federally threatened species in 1984. It is a small 2-1/4 inch long, blind, pinkish-white fish that lives in caves, sinkholes, and underground springs that are untouched by light in Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Due to the dark environment, sight is unnecessary and the cavefish has no eyes. It senses motion given off by organisms in the water to locate food such as plankton, isopods, amphipods, crayfish, salamander larvae, and bat guano. Some threats to the Ozark cavefish include water pollution, declining bat populations (as the cavefish feeds on guano), specimen collection, cave disturbance and destruction, and changing water tables.

    Early settlers often found Ozark cavefish swimming in their buckets as they drew water from their wells. They called the fish "spring keepers" or "well keepers," as a sign that the water was safe to drink.

  • Turnback Cave

    Turnback Cave Entrance

    Turnback Cave consists of Mississippian-aged limestone bedrock. It has interconnecting passages and is also home to the federally-endangered gray bat. These types of caves often have very good water quality, but only if there’s no groundwater pollution. Groundwater pollution can occur from pesticides, chemical spills, agricultural runoff, road runoff, eroded soils, and garbage which flow into the groundwater and travel for miles before finally entering recharge areas where the cavefish reside. These underground pools then replenish the groundwater supply where we all get our drinking water.  

    The cave is closed to the public to help prevent spread of White-nose Syndrome, a cold-loving fungus, which has caused the deaths of millions of bats across the U. S. White-nose Syndrome has been detected in Missouri and the Fish and Wildlife Service is working with state and federal agency partners to find answers to stop this mystery. Visit the Fish and Wildlife Service national website on White-nose Syndrome to learn more. The cave is also closed to public access to prevent disturbance to the threatened Ozark cavefish and the endangered gray bat.

    We can all help to protect the Ozark cavefish and caves by not entering caves, disposing trash and other solid wastes properly, leaving a vegetation buffer between farm fields or homes and streams, properly maintaining septic tanks, controlling animal waste runoff, and retaining forested areas near cave entrances because they act as nature’s sponge.