I've been looking for places to find bats in their natural habitat, rather than around the house. The author of this question saw some bats in a lava tube. I've never heard of a lava tube before, and would like to know what it means, and how it happens.

I understand that lava flows from a volcano, and affects any type of terrain in its path, including where it lands on the ground, which can be quite a distance from the site of the eruption.

How does lava create a tube-type formation with space inside? Is it hard enough to become something permanent, or is it a temporary structure that caves in at some point?

Is there any place in the United States where we could go to see one? I'm hoping we might find some bats inside.

Follow-up: Since people have been kind enough to teach me about the lava tubes, I've learned that not all of them have bats. When planning a trip, it's best to look up each cave individually to see if they are home to bats. Interestingly, even if they aren't in the caves, there are often bats living in the immediate vicinity, so on a trip you can frequently see both. (It's also worth researching the area before a trip, because some caves are closed at various times to protect the maternity colonies. For instance, at the time of this writing, 7 caves in the Lava Bed National Monument in California will be closed for the summer while the bats give birth and care for the young.)

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    Is asking about the science behind these geological process a better fit on Earth Science since there really isn't a component of "outdoor activities, excursions, or outdoorsmanship" here? Sep 18, 2017 at 18:39
  • @Robert, Thanks for the comment! It's very helpful. I was trying to write something interesting to people who go places, like the cave, which would be an excursion, therefore on-topic. I thought there was precedent, especially in the weather tag: Noreaster supposed to move southwest? How much rain is in a cloud? Do mountains make their own weather?. These are all science questions, so I'm confused, but open to trying to learn! Sep 18, 2017 at 19:32
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    @Malco, thanks for the edit. It looks better now! Sep 18, 2017 at 20:41
  • @RobertCartaino My original intention here was to ask two questions. First, the science one so I could learn about the lava tube. I was then going to follow it up with a second to ask if I could see any in my country for the purpose of seeing bats. In Charlie Brumbaugh's kind and thorough answer, he provided both the scientific information, and an example of where I could find one in Utah. Therefore, I don't need to ask the follow-up question! Sep 18, 2017 at 21:07
  • I wouldn't say they're common but you can find lava tubes around lots of different volcanoes. Here is one near Lassen Park where I saw the butterflies. Here is another in Hawaii. One thing nice for people with mobility issues is tubes tend to be pretty flat inside so once you're in it would be a cave a handicapped person could move in with a wheelchair.
    – Erik
    Sep 18, 2017 at 22:53

1 Answer 1


Basically, a lava tube is formed when a underground lava flow stops flowing, leaving behind a long tubular cave.

A lava tube is a natural conduit formed by flowing lava which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. Tubes can be draining lava from a volcano during an eruption, or can be extinct, meaning the lava flow has ceased and the rock has cooled and left a long cave.

Lava tubes are a type of lava cave formed when a low-viscosity lava flow develops a continuous and hard crust, which thickens and forms a roof above the still-flowing lava stream. Tubes form in one of two ways: by the crusting over of lava channels, and from pāhoehoe flows where the lava is moving under the surface.1


This is what the lava tubes at Mammoth Cave (Utah) look like,

Mammoth_Cave_(Utah) lava tube Mammoth_Cave_(Utah) lava tube Mammoth_Cave_(Utah) lava tube

  • Thanks so much Charlie! This is totally fascinating! I can see why bats would love these, and why they'd be a great place for someone who wants to find bats. You get the awesome experience of going to a type of place unknown to many, and also seeing animals in their natural habitat! Sep 18, 2017 at 19:50
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    Be aware though: although lava tubes are relatively visitor friendly compared to many other cave types (smooth floor, good visibility, harder to get lost) it's still not recommendable to just go exploring them alone without experience. When looking for bats specifically learn local guidelines, many caves and even old bunkers and basements are off limits all or some of the year precisely because the bats should not be disturbed.
    – Monster
    Sep 24, 2017 at 21:29

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