The short history of biospeleology

In short

  • the first description of a cave animal: the olm Proteus anguinus, but it was not yet recognized as a cave animal
  • the first described troglobiont recognized as a cave animal: Leptodirus hochenwartii Schmidt, 1832, from cave Postojnska jama in Slovenia
  • the first record of a troglobiont in Croatia: the description of the cave Lanzaia Lanzaia elephantotus, which was considered a marine animal
  • first description of troglobiotes from Croatia: Neotrechus dalmatinus and Speonesiotes narentinus
  • the first systematic research of cave fauna was carried out by professor Eugen Adolf Jurinac from Varaždin in 1883 in the Kordun and Ogulin area


The olm is one of today’s symbols of life in caves, but in the 18th century, more precisely in 1768, when it was scientifically described, it was not considered a cave animal. The idea that animals live in caves and have adapted to cave habitats originates from the 19th century, when Schmidtt in 1832 described a troglomorphic insect, the long-necked Leptodirus hochenwartii in the Postojna Cave in Slovenia. Only then did scientists and pioneers of cave research turn their attention to the underworld as a potential habitat for wildlife, first in the karst area of today’s Slovenia, then in the rest of the Dinarides and beyond. Therefore, with justification Dinaric karst, especially in Slovenia, can be considered the cradle of biospeleology, where since then and to this day many new cave species have been discovered.

In Croatia, the first record of an underground animal was the description of the cave snail Lanzaia elephantotus (Megerle von Mühlfeld, 1824), but it was thought of as a marine organism. The cave cricket Dolichopoda araneiformis (Burmeister, 1838) from Dubrovnik was recorded, and probably collected from one of Dubrovnik caves.

It was not until 1861 that the first troglobite was discovered in Croatia, when the Viennese biologist Joseph Erber had collected species from the caves of Dalmatia and provided a description of the first troglobitic beetle Neotrechus dalmatinus (Miller, 1861) and the Speonesiotes narentinus (Miller, 1861), from an unknown cave in the Neretva area, the first Had funnel-web weaver Hadites tegenarioides (Keyserling, 1862), from an unknown cave on the Island of Hvar, and the isopods described over 70 years later, the Neretva Illyrian woodlouse Alpioniscus verhoeffi (Strouhal, 1938), from a cave near the Neretva. What followed was the collection of cave fauna in Lika, Pokuplje, Kordun and more descriptions of species. We owe the discovery of the first troglobitic millipede Brachydesmus inferus (Latzel, 1884) to the famous malacologist Spiridon Brusina.

The first systematic research on underground fauna was carried out in 1883 by a professor from Varaždin, Eugen Adolf Jurinac, in Kordun and Ogulin. One of the results was the first discovery and description of the cave amphipod, the Croatian eyeless shrimp Niphargus croaticus (Jurinac, 1887). At the end of the 19th century, exploration of other underground habitats began, such as hyporheic and other interstitial habitats, and so the crustaceologist Dragutin Šoštarić collected tiny planktonic crabs from all over the country, including those in interstitial habitats. In the 19th century, he described almost 30 species of underground fauna.

In the 20th century, biospeleological exploration intensified, and by the Second World War, more than 150 species were recorded. Among the many collectors and taxonomists, a few names are worth pointing out. The director of the Croatian Museum of Natural History, August Langhoffer, organised a big biospeleological exploration of Kordun, Gorski Kotar, Lika and the Zagreb region in the period from 1902 to 1913. The exploration of Dalmatian caves was organised by a school professor from Split, Umberto Girometta, in the period from 1912 to 1914. The beetle fauna and other groups along the Adriatic coast were collected by the renowned Josef (Giuseppe) Müller, a coleopterologist from Trieste (otherwise born in Zadar).

One of the greatest researchers of cave fauna in the Dinarides was surely the Czech biologist Karel Absolon. In Croatia, he explored Dalmatia in the period from 1908 to 1922. He gathered an extensive collection of underground fauna called Biospeologica Balcanica, containing besides his samples he had collected, those collected by numerous other researchers. The collection was reviewed and a description given to specific items by a number of prominent European taxonomists.

The most deserving taxonomists of this period are: for beetle fauna, Viktor Apfelbeck, the curator of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo; Ernestus Csiki, a Hungarian coleopterologist; Ludwig Ganglbauer, an Austrian entomologist; Joseph (Giuseppe) Müller; Edmund Reitter, an Austrian entomologist; Albert Winkler, a Viennese coleopterologist; for spider fauna, Karel Absolon; Władysław Kulczyński, a Polish arachnologist; Josef Kratochvíl, a Czech arachnologist; František Miller, a Czech arachnologist; for pseudoscorpion fauna, Max Beier, a Viennese arachnologist; Jovan Hadži, a Slovenian biologist; for millipede fauna Karl Strasser, a Trieste diplopodologist; for isopod fauna, Alceste Arcangeli, Italian isopodologist; Karl Verhoeff, German isopodologist; Hans Strouhal, Austrian isopodologist; Zdeněk Frankenberger, Slovak isopodologist; for amphipod fauna, A. Schellenberg, curator of the Zoological Museum in Berlin; for decapod crustaceans fauna, Krunoslav Babić, Croatian zoologist; for springtail fauna, Jan Stach, Polish collembologist; for snail fauna, Ljudevit Kuščer, Slovenian malacologist; Antoni Jósef Wagner, Polish malacologist; for arachnid fauna, Josef Kratochvíl; for mite fauna, Carl Willmann, zoologist from Bremen; for flatworm fauna, Julius Komárek, Czech biologist.

Since the Second World War and to the end of the twentieth century, more than 160 cave animals have been recorded, and underground habitats are increasingly explored, including the ecology and biology of underground species. Scientific papers have become more extensive and complex, where in depth descriptions of new species often require a taxonomic revision of existing groups.

Slovenian coleopterologist Egon Pretner has collected systematically cave fauna from the Dinarides including that from Croatia and covered in detail beetle fauna. Zagreb biologist Milan Meštrov investigated the interstitial aquatic fauna, the hyporheic especially of the Sava River. He has discovered and provided a description of a new type of underground habitat hypothelminorheic, and which has undergone thorough research on Medvednica and Risnjak. The arahnologist Christa Deeleman-Reinhold from the Netherlands investigated systematically spider fauna of the Dinarides during the 1930s and, along with Josef Kratochvíl, published the largest number of works on Croatian spider fauna. A number of biologists from the famous Karaman family, originally from Skopje, explored the subterranean fauna of the Dinarides. In Croatia, a great impact has been made by Stanko Karaman and his son Gordan Karaman with their research into amphipods, and along with his wife Zora Karaman who has researched beetles. A large number of Slovenian biologists have investigated the Croatian underground, primarily the malacologists Jože Bole and France Velkovrh, Janez Matjašič, a researcher of flatworms, diplopodologist Narcis Mršić, biologist Boris Sket, who is still investigating a number of different groups, especially crabs. He the fauna of tiny shrimp were researched by the Macedonian crustaceologist Trajan Petkovski. Tiny aquatic snails were investigated by German malacologist Hartwig Schütt and Belgrade malacologist Pavle Radoman, and the pseudoscorpions have been researched by the Serbian arachnologist Božidar Ćurčić. After the Second World War, Josef (Giuseppe) Müller continued to research beetle fauna, whereas Karl Strasser the millipede fauna. Croatian biospeleologists collected and explored subterranean fauna, Branko Jalžić primarily beetle fauna, Roman Ozimec primarily spiders and beetles, Tonći Rađa primarily snails and Sanja Gottstein primarily aquatic crustaceans. In 1996, together with other scientists that supported biospeleological research, they established the Croatian Biospeleological Society.

The first 15 years of the 21st century, with over 100 newly identified species and a large number of scientific papers can be considered the pinnacle of biospeleological research. Numerous researchers have collected species from Croatian caves, mostly through the activities of the Croatian Biospeleological Society, followed by several research institutions and speleological associations (Faculty of Science of the University of Zagreb, Ruđer Bošković Institute…) and NGOs (Biology Students Association – BIUS, Speleološko društvo Špiljar…).


  • Bedek, J., Gottstein Matočec, S., Jalžić, B., Ozimec, R. & Štamol, V. (2006): Catalogue of cave type localities of Croatian fauna. Nat. Croat., Vol. 15, Suppl. 1: 1-154.
  • Cukrov, M. & Ozimec, R. (2014): Prirodoslovne značajke Rijeke dubrovačke (Ombla) / Natural Characteristic of the Rijeka Dubrovačka. Hrvatsko biospeleološko društvo, Grad Dubrovnik, Županije Dubrovačko-neretvanska, Zagreb. pp. 216.
  • Gottstein Matočec, S. (ed.), Bakran-Petricioli, T., Bedek, J., Bukovec, D., Buzjak, S., Franičević, M., Jalžić, B., Kerovec, M., Kletečki, E., Kralj, J., Kružić, P., Kučinić, M., Kuhta, M., Matočec, N., Ozimec, R., Rađa, T., Štamol, V., Ternjej, I. & Tvrtković, N. (2002): An overview of the cave and interstitial biota of Croatia. Nat. Croat., Vol. 11, Suppl. 1: 1-112.
  • Gottstein Matočec, S., Ozimec, R., Jalžić, B., Kerovec, M. & Bakran-Petricioli, T. (2002): Raznolikost i ugroženost podzemne faune Hrvatske. Ministarstvo zaštite okoliša i prostornog uređenja, Zagreb. pp. 82.
  • Jalžić, B., Bedek, J., Bilandžija, H., Bregović, P., Cvitanović, H., Čuković, T., Ćukušić, A., Dražina, T., Đud, L., Gottstein, S., Hmura, D., Kljaković Gašpić, F., Komerički, A., Kutleša, P., Lukić, M., Malenica, M., Miculinić, K., Ozimec, R., Pavlek, M., Raguž, N., Slapnik, R. & Štamol, V. (2013): Atlas špiljskih tipskih lokaliteta faune Republike Hrvatske, svezak 2. Hrvatsko biospeleološko društvo, Zagreb. pp. 238.
  • Jalžić, B., Bedek, J., Bilandžija, H., Cvitanović, H., Dražina, T., Gottstein, S., Kljaković Gašpić, F., Lukić, M., Ozimec, R., Pavlek, M., Slapnik, R. & Štamol, V. (2010): Atlas špiljskih tipskih lokaliteta faune Republike Hrvatske, svezak 1. Hrvatsko biospeleološko društvo, Državni zavod za zaštitu prirode, Zagreb. pp. 261.
  • Ozimec, R., Bedek, J., Gottstein, S., Jalžić, B., Slapnik, R., Štamol, V., Bilandžija, H., Dražina, T., Kletečki, E., Komerički, A., Lukić, M. & Pavlek, M. (2009): Crvena knjiga špiljske faune Hrvatske. Ministarstvo kulture, Državni Zavod za zaštitu prirode, Zagreb. pp. 371.