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The baby dragons are hatching!

By Leonard Ho - Posted
Olms, AKA "baby dragons," are like the distant European cousins of axolotls, only much more rare. They breed only once or twice per DECADE, and very few of their eggs ever hatch, so witnessing a captive hatching (or hopefully 23) is something to celebrate and geek out about.

Olms resemble elongated (and less cute) versions of axoltyls.  Like axoltyls, olms lack skin pigments and exhibit neoteny, retaining the larval characteristics of salamanders (such as external gills) throughout adulthood.  They live exclusively in pitch-dark caves, spending their entire lives in total darkness.  They have thus evolved to be blind but have very acute sense of smell and hearing.

Olms are truly remarkable products of evolution.  They are estimated to live 60 to 100 years.  Even more amazing is that controlled experiments have shown olms are able to go an entire decade without food - a very useful adaption for food-scarce dark caves.

Why is this hatching event notable?  Olms only lay eggs a couple times per year, and embryos take 120+ days to develop.  During this time, a lot of things can go wrong (such as disease/rot, predators, or even other  olms), so it is estimated that on average only two out of 500 eggs make it out of the eggs.  Olms also take fourteen years to reach sexual maturity.  It's a good thing this species can live so long!

Biologists discovered a female at Postojnska caves (a popular tourist attraction in Slovenia) laying eggs on January 30, 2016.  Each day, she would produce one or two new eggs, which she continued to do into March!  Talk about extended labor!  Of the 50-60 eggs she laid, 23 developed into viable embryos.  On May 30, 2015, the first one hatched, with a second one wiggling its way out as we speak!  The eggs were laid within an public aquarium inside the caves, thus the eggs have a better chance of survival than in the wild.  Even if only two hatch, two out of 64 is far better than two out of 500.

But let's hope for all 23.

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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