'Baby dragons' that can live 100 years are hatching - here's a look at their incredible life cycle
In Slovenia, a special event is underway. Rare olm salamanders, also known as "the human fish" and "baby dragons," are hatching in Postojna Cave.So far, three have hatched in the cave's special aquarium, the latest on June 4.Advertisement
They don't look exactly like dragons, but they do look similar enough that locals thought they might be dragon offspring - and avoided their caves out of fear of meeting their larger parents.
Fire-breathing or not, the olm salamander is a species unlike any other. Here's what sets them apart.
Slovenia's "baby dragons" are most famously found in Postojna Cave, which is just east of Italy's northeastern border.
Scientists aren't exactly sure how many eggs a single female olm lays throughout her lifetime, though they estimate it could be hundreds. However, only two of those embryos are likely to survive to adulthood.Advertisement
In the current clutch of 64 eggs, biologists think only 22 are likely to hatch — and no one knows how many will survive in the long-term.
It takes an olm longer to develop to sexual maturity than a human. In fact, baby dragons typically can't reproduce until 16 years after they're born. Even then, they never really grow up.Advertisement
OIms have feathery gills at birth and keep them for the rest of their lives, which can last 100 years — making them the longest-lived amphibians biologists have found. This also means the baby dragons hatching now will look that way for the next century, with one notable exception: olm larvae eyes get covered with skin in adulthood.
You can make out an olm's organs through its skin. The skin is translucent because the salamanders are adapted for living in underwater caves in pitch-black darkness, so they don't need to produce any colored pigment.Advertisement
The skin looks pink because of blood vessels close the surface. This fleshy color has also earned them the creepy and wildly inaccurate nickname, the "human fish."
Compensating for their skin-covered eyes, olms have the ability to sense much more than we can. And it's not just super-smell and hearing: They can also sense electricity and possibly even magnetic fields.Advertisement
Olms can go 10 years without eating. They have no natural predators, few stressors, and — as cold-blooded amphibians — no need to maintain body heat. Simply put, they just don't need a ton of energy to survive.
The known population of olm salamanders is very, very small, and might be getting smaller due to polluted cave waters. Postojna is taking great care to ensure the survival of the animals there by building a "nursery" inside the caves, while teaching tourists about what is almost certainly one of its most prized critters around.Advertisement
You can watch baby olms hatch on Postojna Cave's YouTube channel.
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