An extremely rare breed of blind salamanders known as 'baby dragons' are hatching inside the Postojna Cave below the Slovenian countryside.
The eyeless, aquatic species, called olms, are nicknamed dragons because of their long, slender bodies and only reproduce every five to ten years, despite their 100-year lifespan. They can even live up to a decade without food.
The initial batch of eggs, now more than 60, first appeared inside an aquarium at the cave this January. Researchers estimate that only two out of every 500 olm eggs hatch. According to Dr. David Green, a professor at McGill University and director of the Redpath Museum, little is known about the rare salamanders.
"They are very hard to come by…they come up to the surface very rarely and these caves are filled with water, so it’s very difficult to get down in them," he said. "Some of the difficulties are going deep underground, swimming around in the dark, and trying to find anything. It’s beyond imagining."
The embryonic development of an olm usually takes about 140 days, in addition to another 14 years for the species to reach sexual maturity.
Postojna Cave's managing director, Katja Batagelj, was the first person to find camera footage of the first hatch.
"The larva broke the envelope in one sudden swift movement and quickly swam towards the surface, disappearing from the screen after a few moments," she said. "Then it calmed down and came down to the bottom."
The Slovenian team hopes that the new olms will help them understand more about the rare species.