In Postojna Cave, one of the most fascinating karst caves in the world, baby olms (also known as human fish) are expected in the next few weeks. This is an extremely rare occurrence, as baby olms have hatched in an aquarium only once thus far, in France in the middle of the last century. So the miraculous birth, which is being carefully followed by people from all around the world is an incredible opportunity to visit the karst underground and meet its famous denizen, also known as “the little dragon.”
A cave miracle under the watchful eye of the whole world
This cave miracle, which usually happens in the depths of underground waters, is now happening before the eyes of visitors, in an aquarium that you can reach by underground train. Because olms are hard to find in nature, this is the only way for us to get to know them more closely. It is for this very reason that the anticipation of the new generation of olms is such a special and rare phenomenon, which is also being carefully followed by biologists from all around the world.
The first egg was noticed by one of the tour guides at Postojna Cave at the end of January. He immediately informed the cave biologists, who also could not believe that Slovenia got another chance to welcome baby olms into the world in such a short period of time. One of the female olms at Postojna Cave hatched eggs in 2013 as well, but no young were able to develop at that time. This time, biologists are handling the eggs much more carefully: they are developing nicely, and the baby olms are already growing tails. Because olms hatch after about four months, the time is approaching when Slovenia will be able to welcome the young, so we will have the opportunity to see and care for “dragon” babies, which has happened once before in history.
A mysterious mythological creature
Although olms have lived in caves for millions of years, very little is known about them. People first saw olms in the 17th century, when a river flushed them out of their natural habitat due to heavy rainfall. They were named “small dragons” due to their size and red gills, which resemble a baroque collar.
Today, we know that the olm, also known as proteus, is the only vertebrate living exclusively underground. This small animal is fully adjusted to living in the dark, because its skin does not contain protective pigment, and the pale pink colour of its skin is due to the capillaries under it. The olm could advise us how to live long, as it lives up to 100 years, and its life is very slow and inactive. It has “mythological” characteristics because of the ‘poor appetite’ – the olm can survive for up to ten years without food, and it only reproduces every six or seven years. It is blind, it does not even have eyes, but in addition to sharpened senses of smell and hearing, it also feels its surroundings by detecting electrical energy and magnetic waves.
A ceremonial gift
The fact that Slovenians, prior to the introduction of the euro, kept the olm in their wallets, depicted on their coins, is also proof that they are aware of the importance of this mysterious cave animal. In Yugoslavia, President Tito offered them as ceremonial gifts.
A sign of clean water
The most important aspect of the olm is certainly that it only lives in extremely clean water. If the olm disappears from a body of water, this indicates that it is polluted, so Slovenians are exceedingly glad that these “small dragons” have lived in here underground for so long. It would be hard to give up our water, which is drinkable almost throughout the country.
Not only is the water in Slovenia clean, but it also covers a significant part of its territory. Local people can enjoy no less than 1300 natural and artificial lakes, sources, waterfalls, rivers, and the sea. The 27,000 kilometres of the highly ramified network of rivers and 54,000 kilometres of river banks and lake shores make this small country one of the richest countries in the world when it comes to water resources.
One of the most beautiful caves in the world
Postojna Cave is considered one of the most beautiful and the most biologically diverse karst caves in the world. The River Pivka created a magical world of tunnels, underground halls and dripstone galleries under its surface, which have been attracting visitors for over 200 years.