The Cave So Huge It Has Its Own Ecosystem

“Thick cloud and fogs hangs in the upper half of the cave, where it gets trapped and unable to escape through the small passage in the roof.” —Robbie Shone, photographer

In A Nutshell

People have known about the cave in the Chongqing province of China for a long time, but nobody had ever gone very far down into it. But when a team of scientists explored it last year, they found it was so huge that it had its own ecosystem, including plants, streams, and clouds. Now recognized as one of the largest cave systems in the world, no one knows what else it’s hiding in its unexplored depths.

The Whole Bushel

The Er Wang Dong cave had previously been mined for nitrate, but only close to the entrance. Nobody had gone any further simply because they couldn’t. The cave was too big, and it requires a lot of equipment to get down into it. There is only a small passage in the roof of the cave’s biggest chamber that allows people to pass through, and if you want to go in yourself, you’d want to bring a lot of rope: The chamber is over 250 meters (820 ft) tall, and 50,586 square meters (544,500 sq ft). That’s about the size of 12 football fields on the ground, and almost three times as tall as the Statue of Liberty (from the ground to the flame).

Seeing as the cave had never been properly explored before, the scientists had no idea how enormous this underground world would actually be. But when the team of 15 speleologists (people who study caves, naturally) finally entered, they weren’t just amazed at how enormous the cave was. They were more focused on the fact that they weren’t even able to see the cave ceiling. Not because it was so far away, obviously, but because the cave was so colossal that a cloud had formed and become stuck there, making it seem as if they weren’t in a closed room at all. For this reason, that part of the cave was named Cloud Ladder Hall.

While much of the vast cave system is as one would expect: rocky and dank. The network is so vast that it allows plenty of room for vegetation and flowing water. And that doesn’t mean some moss and a babbling brook. The cave is home to a sprawling garden of plant life that even includes trees. The raging rivers are strong, wide, and deep enough to sweep you away and over one of the waterfalls, never to be heard from again.

If you’re somehow still not convinced as to just how gargantuan this cave system is, bear in mind that the 15 speleologists spent an entire month down there exploring it, and they didn’t even see everything. While spending a month being the first people to explore an underground ecosystem may sound like a great adventure, it was also extremely dangerous for those involved. There are all the usual dangers of cave diving, such as falling or slipping from great heights (though few as great as the height in this cave), but there are many added dangers of exploring an uncharted cave as large as this. Obviously there’s the fact that, if the entrance they used became sealed, they may not have been able to find another one (assuming another one even exists). But water flowing through that entrance from the surface, or the chance that these unknown rivers could burst their banks also posed a very real threat. The human mind is programmed to be afraid of the unknown, so spending a month as the first people in a dark, nearly inescapable maze is pretty brave. And now that we’ve discovered an underground world, it may be time to take another look at all those lizard people conspiracy theories. Just in case.

Show Me The Proof


Massive cave discovered in China has its own weather system

Inside Er Wang Dong’s Cloud Ladder Hall
Massive Cave Discovered in China (photos)

  • Sameer Roopawalla

    Great article. Been reading Listverse.com and more recently Knowledgenuts.com. Well done!

  • Exiled Phoenix

    The entrance to the domain of the mole people…. We must ready for War!!

  • inconspicuous detective

    that’s amazing. the first thing i think about are movies like “journey to the center of the earth”. it’s incredible that this can even happen…it isn’t even something most of us think possible but there it is. awesome little article here. good work.

    • Some Dude

      It’s incredible that what can even happen? Nature? People exploring things? Christ, at least make an educated comment without talking out of your own ass.

      • Limesy

        Says the “dude” who never bothered to make an educated comment of his own; instead, choosing to revert back to sixth grade antics and provide us all with an equally useless response.

        • Some Dude

          Well, y’know, that’s just like…your opinion, man.

      • isaac

        I’m pretty sure the incredible part was how enormously big this cave is. Seriously have you seen the pictures? If you don’t find the hugeness of this cave mind-blowing you must have a very boring mind.

  • Jessikah

    How do the plants and trees grow without any sunlight? Or any light at all really….

    • Chris

      From the pics, it looks like the light gets in the same way humans do, and just bounces around I guess

  • YUSUF RAJA

    nice information guys keep up the good work

  • Snide

    Why isn’t the picture a picture of the actual cave??? – http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/10/02/article-2441450-1875542400000578-292_964x640.jpg

    • Stephanie

      See that tiny white dot in the bottom right hand corner? That’s 1 guy, with 2 others nearby. Fuck me that cave is unreasonably huge! It could be the punchline in a yo mamma joke

      “Yo mamma so fat, she opened her mouth, and explorers thought they spent a month in the Er Wang Dong cave system from the Chonqing province in China! Burn!”

      • The Ou7law

        Yeah well your momma such a hoe and so blown out that scientists thought the Er Wang Dong cave was between her legs

  • Kaydot Mcdiamonds

    Or there could be cannibalistic humanoids down there…. The Descent

    • inconspicuous detective

      a great movie. one of my favorites.

      • Kaydot Mcdiamonds

        Yeah it actually made a lasting impression on me and I normally find horror movies funny. But the sequel was rubbish though. It had a good hook just not as scary

  • Brp Goyo

    Underneath that foliage are the factories where they mix paper and pork together and pass them off as dumplings 😀

  • LEDZEPPWIN

    THIS IS WHERE THE GREEN CHILDREN FROM WOOL PIT CAME FROM

    • Rose

      I’ve read about those kids, possibly a chance thats what could of happen. Earth is so big amd unexplored(even though we live on the majority of the world) that humans in ecosystems like this could exist.

  • WhiteExodus

    Where the heck is Gollum?!!?

  • Jum1801

    Is there any way to stop the practice of using a pale gray and unreadable font color for the caption above “In A Nutshell”. It’s a strain and a goddam nuisance. I would ask that we either darken it or dispense with it.

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    • isaac

      Uhhhhhh….

      More dangerous?
      Please leave this website.

  • Adjudant

    Matthew Reilly would love this!

  • A big thank you for your blog post.Really thank you!