Even in this technological day and age, there are some magical things still lurking in special parts of the world. As far back as 1689 baby dragons were sighted in Slovenia. Janez Vajkard Valvasor documented his discovery of them in his book The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola.
Heavy rains are credited with bringing the dragon babies to light. The rains flooded the subterranean caves where they lived and they floated out to the surface. People who witnessed their appearance assumed they were baby dragons because they look like the beginnings of those wonderful beasts.
Author Valvasor collected all the Slovenian folk stories about these creatures and created a compendium of sorts about them.
In 1768 G.A. Scopoli, a physician and researcher from Idrija, first studied the creatures. Later in 1768, Josephus Nicolaus Laurenti added the creature to the roster of known animals – he called it an olm and gave it the scientific name, Proteus anguinus (photo left of the real “baby dragon”, an Olm courtesy of EdgeofExistence.org.)
Research on these animals continued over the next couple centuries and continues to this day in Slovenia, at least. What makes the latest research so interesting is the fact that scientists have found eggs and are anxiously waiting for them to hatch.
Is an Olm a Dragon?
Though they look like they could be baby dragons, they are not, sadly. However they are very interesting little amphibians.
This latest bunch were found in a subterranean cave called Postojna Cave which is located right next to a very popular aquarium. Biologist Saso Weldt reported that on January 30 of this year a female olm laid her eggs on the underside of a big rock. The scientists figure the eggs are due to hatch in April. (Photo right courtesy of ScienceMagazine.org.)
So little is known about their reproductive biology that scientists are quite excited to be witnesses to this process first-hand.
Fun Facts about Olms
- Olms live their whole lives in subterranean caves in southern Europe, specifically the Dinaric Alps which range from southern Slovenia through northeast Italy, down to coastal Croatia and the karst (large areas of limestone featuring sinks[holes], ravines, and underground streams) regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- They are blind
- Senses of smell and hearing are outstanding
- Have 3 toes on their front forelimbs and 2 toes on their rear feet
- They retain their larval-stage external gills into adulthood (see photo right).
- They are carnivores that eat invertebrates such as worms, insects, larvae, and snails. They will eat other olm eggs if they find them.
- Olms can live to be between 10 and 50 years old
- They range between an inch to 12 inches long and can weigh between 1-5 ounces.
- Reach sexual maturity between 10-15 years of age
- Females lay between 5-30 eggs at a time in out-of-the-way places amidst the underwater rocks
- Sometimes called “human fish” due to their coloration matching European skin color
- Their conservation status is “Threatened.”
Are you Disappointed?
Well, I was a little too. I really wish dragons were real. (See my other article about those wonderful beasts in the References section below.)
But still, this little creature is pretty amazing and I can see how the locals back in the day thought they looked like little dragons. It’s the frill around their necks, the shortened limbs, and the long, sinuous bodies that give them that look, I think.
So everybody keep your eyes to the sky and your cameras handy because I’d still love to see a real fire-breathing dragon someday! Wouldn’t you?