After four months of nervously monitored gestation, scientists in Slovenia have witnessed the birth of a new generation of “baby dragon” which was once considered living proof that dragons existed.
Inside Slovenia’s Postojna cave, a female olm — a pale, lizard-sized amphibian living in an aquarium in the country’s biggest cave — laid eggs, which are expected to hatch this June.
In what has been described as the first example of observed out-of-lab breeding of the species, large crowds from all over the world queue up to witness the extremely rare hatching of the mysterious olms.
Olms are not really successful when it comes to reproduction, but this olm laid a total of 57 eggs laid in January, three of which were developing well.
The eyeless pink strange, slithery creatures, known as the “baby dragon” and “human fish” for its skin-like colour, can live for 100 years and breeds only once a decade — usually in laboratories throughout Europe or deep in caves away from people.
Two years ago, a Postojna olm also laid eggs, but they fell prey to other cave inhabitants. So, this time biologists in a more promising attempt, isolated the female and her eggs in a dark spot, added extra oxygen and removed any outside influences.
Visitors have been allowed nowhere near the mother and her eggs — tourists could only view a live video screening via special infrared cameras that were installed near the aquarium.
Reaching a maximum length of 35 centimetres (13.5 inches), the blind animal with its four tiny limbs is a far cry from the scary monsters conjured up in national folklore.
It’s slim vertebrate sports has pink three feathery gills on each side of its elongated snout. The body’s sheer pink skin makes it easy to spot the internal organs.
Found primarily in Balkan cave rivers, the protected eel-like species has been living in the world-famous Postojna cave, 50 kilometres (30 miles) southwest of the capital Ljubljana, for what researchers say is millions of years.
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Although not officially endangered, the species is nevertheless considered vulnerable as it finds itself at risk of environmental changes like pollution seeping into the so-called karsts, or caves created from water eating through soluble rocks like limestone.