Thursday, 2 June 2016

Olm eggs: First two Slovenian 'dragons' emerge

By Jonathan Webb Science reporter, BBC News
4 hours ago

After a four-month wait, the eggs laid by a peculiar salamander in a Slovenian cave have started to hatch.

Ghostly pale and totally blind, olms - fondly known by locals as "baby dragons" - only reproduce every 5-10 years and are thought to live to 100.

This clutch of eggs started to appear in January in an aquarium in Postojna Cave, a tourist destination where the creatures have lived for millennia.

Observing baby olms develop and hatch is a rare opportunity for science.

The first of 23 developed eggs hatched on 30 May; a second baby olm (pictured below) was slowly wriggling out of its egg on Wednesday night.

"It is the end of one part of the story and the beginning of a whole new chapter: feeding and living without the egg," said Saso Weldt, who looks after and studies the olms at Postojna Cave.

He told BBC News nobody witnessed the first egg hatching, but the moment was captured thanks to an infrared camera.

"I was in the cave doing some other biological work. Since we have all the eggs on an IR camera, we saw that one was missing. Then you rewind and suddenly you realise, something has happened."

Mr Weldt and his colleagues hope to see a full count of 23 healthy hatchlings within a few weeks.

The staff at Postojna have been consulting amphibian experts to help them care for the fragile eggs, including a French team that has studied the olms in an underground mountain lab since the 1950s.

That laboratory is the only other place where these animals have ever been observed emerging from their eggs.

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