Slovenia eagerly awaits birth of 'baby dragons'

The mother olm guarding her eggs laid under a rock.
The mother olm guarding her eggs laid under a rock.PHOTO: IZTOK MEDJA/POSTOJNSKA JAMA
An olm egg laid in the Postojna Cave.
An olm egg laid in the Postojna Cave.PHOTO: IZTOK MEDJA/POSTOJNSKA JAMA
An olm is a blind salamander that lives in underwater caves in parts of Southern Europe.
An olm is a blind salamander that lives in underwater caves in parts of Southern Europe.PHOTO: IZTOK MEDJA/POSTOJNSKA JAMA

Scientists in Slovenia are eagerly anticipating the rare birth of a batch of olms - a sightless, cave-dwelling amphibian resembling a baby dragon.

The olm, also called the proteus or the human fish, is a salamander which lives deep within underwater caves in southern Europe.

The creatures have a mythic status in Slovenia, where hundreds of years ago, they were thought to be baby dragons.

The coins in the country even carried an image of one before it adopted the euro.

A total of 55 eggs have been laid in the Postojna Cave, but it is not known how many will hatch.

Postojna's cave system is a popular tourist attraction, and the clutch of eggs has been laid in an aquarium in the cave's heavily trafficked visitor area.

The karst cave has been posting regular updates on the status of the eggs on its website.

"People from all over Slovenia are asking about the situation in the aquarium on a daily basis," the latest post read.

Infrared photos and videos of the olm and her eggs are keeping the public's curiosity sated.

The egg-laying has been a prolonged process - the mother olm began laying on Jan 30, and has been adding one or two a day. They may take more than 120 days to hatch, said the post.

Meanwhile, the "Dragon Mum" has been guarding her eggs against other cave animals who see the eggs as protein to supplement their diet.

The blind amphibian has honed its other senses in the dark: It has incredible hearing and smell, and can even sense the electrical pulses emitted by animals.

It is thought to live more than 100 years, and reproduces just once or twice a decade, BBC reported.

Little is known about how olms procreate, and scientists have hailed this as a rare opportunity to learn more.

"In the wild, we never find eggs or larvae. They are probably hidden within some very specific localities within the cave systems," Dr Dusan Jelic, a Zoological Society of London Edge Fellow who studies wild olms told BBC.

The last time a batch of eggs was laid in the aquarium, in 2013, none hatched.

Mr Sašo Weldt, a biologist who works at the cave, told the New York Times: "We are hoping that in a couple of months we can state that we have baby dragons."