Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

‘Baby dragon’ birth captured on video

  • Written by  Estelle Hakner
  • Published in Wildlife
Proteus anguinus baby Proteus anguinus baby Alex_Hyde
03 Jun
2016
The wait is over for biologists at Slovenia’s Postojna Cave as their first ‘baby dragon’ or ‘human fish’ is born, giving a rare snapshot into the strange and little-known world of this bizarre amphibian

The olm (Proteus anguinus) is a blind, salamander-like creature with pale skin and protruding gills, which lives entirely underwater in the cave systems of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is Europe’s only fully subterranean vertebrate, and the world’s largest cave-dwelling animal.

Its penchant for complete darkness means that, up until now, virtually nothing has been documented about its reproductive processes, and knowledge about how to conserve the species through its development is relatively limited.

Here comes the second baby dragon photo by Iztok Medja Postojnska jamaPostojna CaveThe second baby dragon hatches (Image: Iztok Medja Postojnska)

But the waters of the Pivka River that flow through the karst cave aquarium have proven a suitable nursery for an estimated 4,000 olms, and infrared technology has opened up the world of the enigmatic salamander for the first time.

On Monday (30 May) at 10.48am, four months after the aquarium’s female olms excited scientists by laying eggs in captivity, the long-awaited hatching took place, caught on infrared camera and shared with the public via a live feed. On Friday 3 June, a second baby was hatched.

Dr. Lilijana Bizjak Mali, from the Biotechnical Faculty at the University of Ljubljana, said: ‘The significance is not that it is the first time that proteus has laid eggs in captivity, but that this happened in a large exhibition aquarium in a major world-renowned tourist cave, and that it was successful.’

The rare footage shows the olm larva easily breaking free of its jelly-like capsule, before swimming energetically and settling on the aquarium floor.

Dr. Mali and Dr. Stanley K. Sessions from Hartwick College, New York, had previously never seen proteus embryos, and found crucial differences to the development of other amphibians when studying them under a microscope.

Dr. Stanley said: ‘While vulnerable to fungus, proteus embryos are quite resilient and not as sensitive to noise, light and other disturbances as previously believed. However, it is paramount that they are kept in a clean environment. One of the important developmental traits of proteus is that hind limb development is delayed in relation to the forelimb. We think this may explain the reduction in number of fingers and toes.’

022 Proteus Anguinus Adult Alex Hyde Postojna Cave.JPG Hello its me copyProteus anguinus adult (Image: Alex Hyde)

Their research highlighted a unique chromosomal translocation in the proteus that explains why high numbers of them display testis-ova or hermaphroditism.

With this new data, scientists at the Postojna Cave hope to develop a breeding programme to further understand other genetic adaptations within the cave-dwelling species, such as its elongated snout and unseeing eyes.

It is hoped that the hatching will increase awareness about the environmental issues affecting wild proteus, such as pollution and habitat destruction.

Saso Weldt, a biologist at the Postojna Cave, said: ‘This is one more stone in resolving the puzzle of olm reproduction in nature. Perhaps, in the future, it will be possible to find eggs and young larvae of olms in nature. So far, nobody has ever seen proteus laying eggs or hatching larvae in nature.’

Related items

BLACK FRIDAY 2

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

DurhamBath Spa600x200 Greenwich Aberystwythherts

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

With growing global awareness of the risks of hunting and…

Climate

Researchers have identified the extent of microplastic contamination throughout the…

Wildlife

The Thames Estuary has long been home to heavy industry,…

Wildlife

Whydahs and indigobirds, collectively known as the vidua finches, show…

Oceans

Whales sequester an enormous amount of carbon, making their protection…

Geophoto

In his ongoing photographic project, Carpathia, Nicholas J R White…

Energy

Artificial intelligence offers high potential solutions to the climate crisis,…

Wildlife

Rewilding projects across Europe are working to expand populations of…

Wildlife

Scientists are racing to prevent a deadly disease that kills…

Wildlife

Birds are a much-loved component of the natural world, serenading…

Tectonics

The unprecedented pause in human activity that took place during…

Wildlife

Since 2006, tiger habitats have shrunk by more than 40…

Climate

Advances in space-based lightning mapping have allowed scientists to measure…

Energy

The amount of energy used by the wealthy minority dwarfs…

Wildlife

Left denuded and depleted of wildlife following a decades-long civil…

Climate

Katie Burton explores the practicalities and ethics of geoengineering, the…

Energy

Though the pandemic has gripped the world's attention, lying just…

Climate

The IPCC embraced the notion of carbon offset schemes in…