'Nothing short of a miracle' - Rare 'baby dragons' born inside Slovenia cave
Published 04/06/2016 | 15:23
Rare 'baby dragons' were born inside Slovenia’s Postojna cave, with hundreds of people queueing up to witness the extremely rare birth.
The slivery creature, known as an olm, is an ancient underwater creature that was once considered proof that dragons existed.
The mysterious creature can live up to 100 years and only breeds once in a decade.
The birth, caught on live camera, is nothing short of 'a miracle', according to a cave spokesman.
"A mere two baby olms successfully hatch from 500 eggs in nature. Although both science and researchers' previous experience gave us almost zero chance that the drama unfolding in the cave aquarium before our very eyes would have a happy ending... we had faith it would happen," the statement said.
The team hope to see a full count of 23 healthy olms within a few weeks.
Found primarily in Balkan cave rivers, the protected eel-like species has been living in the world-famous Postojna cave, 30 miles southwest of the capital Ljubljana, for what researchers say is millions of years.
This week, the tourist attraction became one of the first ever human-controlled environments to successfully breed a baby olm.
The team hope the new arrivals will help to shed fresh light on the enigmatic olm, which has become a national symbol and even featured on Slovenia's currency before the euro was introduced.
While locals now fondly talk of their 'baby dragons', people for centuries were too afraid to even go near the cave.
Slovenians believed them to be the offspring of fire-breathing dragons living inside the dangerous cave.
The blind creatures have acute sensory receptors for smell and movement, helping it to hunt for prey like crabs and snails in the dark, or snap at intruders.
Impressively, the small predator can go without food for up to a decade.
Breeding olms is a difficult process. A previous try in 2013 failed to produce any fertilised eggs at Postojna.
Of the 64 eggs laid in January, two dozen remained alive, with their gills functional and their hearts clearly beating.