POSTOJNA, Slovenia (Reuters) – Three rare aquatic creatures known as baby dragons are going on display in an aquarium at Slovenia’s Postojna Cave, one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions.
The cave-dwelling animals, officially called proteus or olms, have pale pink skin, no eyesight, a long thin body and four legs. They live only in the waters of dark caves of the southern European Karst region.
Local people used to believe the creatures, which were sometimes forced into the open by high water, were the babies of dragons that were believed to live in the caves.
At the Postojna Cave, Europe’s largest cave open to tourists, staff were able to observe the baby dragons being born in 2016.
“We were excited when the eggs were being laid and then had thousands of doubts: how will they survive, what will we feed them with, how will we protect them from infection?” Marjan Batagelj, managing director of the cave, told Reuters.
“Science said they had a 0.5% chance of survival … but we managed to bring up 21 of them,” he added. A total of 64 eggs were laid in 2016.
The babies are up to 14 centimetres (5 inches) long and will reach 30 centimetres (12 inches) when fully grown. Olms can survive up to 8 years without food and have a lifespan of up to 100 years.
A special laboratory has been set up in the cave where the baby dragons are being monitored before they are all presented to the public.
Reporting by Marja Novak; Editing by Giles Elgood