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Postojna Cave Waits for the Arrival of Its ‘Baby Dragons’

It's hoped that the female olm is not yet done with its surprises as it is currently in a 20-day period when it can lay up to 60 eggs.  (Courtesy of  Postojnska Jama)
It's hoped that the female olm is not yet done with its surprises as it is currently in a 20-day period when it can lay up to 60 eggs. (Courtesy of Postojnska Jama)

Are we about to witness three baby dragons about to hatch? Saso Weldt, a biologist who works in the Postojna Cave said: “Right now it looks like three are good candidates.”

The baby dragons

The “baby dragons” were first discovered in the late 1600s after heavy rain had washed them from their hiding spot within the cave system. When the local people saw these strange creatures they believed what they were seeing were the offspring of a cave dragon.

However, we have science to ruin the folk stories. The “baby dragons” are in fact an aquatic salamander, and are most commonly called an olm (Proteus anguinus), but are also called “human fish” because of their pale skin.

Although they may not breathe fire, they do however have several qualities befitting of a mythological creature. The olm can live up to a hundred years, and can survive without food for 10 years.

Being blind does not hold it back either as it has an unbelievable sense of hearing and smell, and can also sense electric and magnetic fields. The female olm becomes sexually mature at 15 years, and reproduces only once every six years.

The discovery

Because the olms only reproduce every six years, biologists Primož Gnezda and Weldt were excited when they made the discovery. The aquarium last expected baby olms in 2013, but several were eaten by other olms or had not hatched in the tank. Weldt said:

“It is rare and it is exciting.

“I was jumping when I saw the first one and the second one. It’s something you don’t want to miss when working as a biologist in a cave.”

This time the cave staff have taken measures to give the eggs a better chance of developing, by removing all other creatures apart from the mother and her eggs. The cave biologists are hoping there will be more success with these eggs. Weldt told BBC:

“It’s the most iconic creature in the cave.

“She started laying eggs on 30 January. She is still laying one or two eggs per day, and they need something like 120 days till they hatch.”

“We are hoping that in a couple of months we can state that we have baby dragons.”

Watch the Proteus anguinus laying eggs form Postojnska jama Cave Grotte Höhle:

The cave

The Postojna Cave has a fairytale landscape of looming stalactites, cathedral-shaped rock formations, and what seems to be an endless tunnel. The cave was carved out by the Pivka River millions of years ago, creating underground tunnels that extents 14.9 miles (24 km) long, making it the second-longest cave in Slovenia.

Johann Weikhard von Valvasor who pioneered the study of the karst phenomena, was the first person to describe the cave system in the 17th century. Then in 1818, while the cave was being prepared for a visit from Francis I, (the first Emperor of the Austria-Hungary) a local man named Luka Čeč discovered a new section of the cave system.

It wasn’t until Archduke Ferdinand visited the caves in 1819 that it become officially known as a tourist destination. Čeč became the first official guide for the caves when it was opened to the public.

Rail lines were introduced in 1872 making it the first cave train for tourists, however the guides themselves had to push them along. In 1924 a gas locomotive was introduced, but the exhaust fumes reduced visibility in the cave, and was replaced by battery-powered ones in 1957.

The water level in the cave has changed over the 200 years man has marveled at its beauty, giving way to a majestic “multi-level” cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and curtains, which were gradually fashioned as the water left layers of limestone behind.

Watch this video from World Press Media about the cave:

The scars of World War II

During the war the German occupying forces had used the cave entrance to store nearly 1,000 barrels of aircraft fuel. Then in April 1944 the Slovene Partisans used a secret passage to gain access to the barrels to destroy them.

However, this caused an extensive fire that burned for seven days, which destroyed a large section of the cave, and made the entrance black.

Throughout its 200-year history the Postojna Cave has been visited by well over 36 million enchanted visitors from all over the world, with many leaving their signatures and comments in memory-filled visitor books.

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