A Baby Dragons' Scuffle – Right before the Their Second Birthday

The second birthday celebration for Postojna Cave's twenty-one ‘baby dragons’ is well underway. Approximately two years ago, the first baby olm hatched inside Postojna Cave's aquarium before our very eyes. Our baby dragons, which used to be totally helpless back in the day, are now showing their wild nature. We've already witnessed the first proper baby dragons' scuffle!

Helpless at first – dragon-like today

Between late May and mid-July 2016, twenty-one olm hatchlings, which were a mere 18 mm in length, hatched from gelatinous olm eggs. At the beginning, they spent most of their time lying on their sides, feeding on yolk reserves in the stomach. Now, just as they are celebrating their second birthday, our baby olms are hearty eaters, whose favourite foods include worms, brine shrimps and water fleas, which were bred especially for them. Due to their huge appetite and favourable living conditions in Postojna Cave's aquariums, the baby dragons now measure more than nine cm. Growing up, they are becoming more and more vigorous and spirited. Recently, they showed their true colours, having a proper little dragon-like scuffle.

A fateful fight

It was two baby olms from the aquarium that had a bit of a wrestle. Their scuffle resulted in an injury and, in late April, one of the two baby olms, Viktor, was left without half of its right rear limb. We found that in line with the "survival of the fittest" its limb had been chewed off by the other olm. The two hot-headed youths were separated immediately after the incident. They were placed into separate aquariums and the injured olm was provided with first aid straight away.

The injured olm's care

In cooperation with experts from the Biotechnical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana, the injured olm was provided with medical aid immediately after the accident. To prevent an infection, the olm was placed in a highly-diluted Holtfreter's solution (saline solution) for 24 hours, followed by clean, UV-filtered water in order to limit the presence of any spores and other potential pathogens.

The baby olm is getting better…

For two long weeks, we were very worried out Viktor's health, monitoring its progress by means of an IR camera 24/7. On the very day when the baby dragons are celebrating their second birthday, we are very happy to announce that the baby olm is getting better and regeneration is well underway. Fortunately, unlike humans, olms have retained their exceptional ability to restore their limbs. Viktor's limb is healing well and a new one will grow over time. But as everything happens at a slower pace in the subterranean world, the regeneration will likewise be slower. Keeping a close eye on Viktor, we will be able to tell how well its regeneration is going and when its new limb will be fully developed.

While scientists are researching, there is a lot going on in Postojna!

While Chinese and Danish scientists, in collaboration with the Biotechnical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana, are researching the olm genome, the Postojna Cave's baby dragons are making sure we have new stories to tell. To date, the news of the largest cave-dwelling animals has travelled all around world, and the findings from Postojna Cave, the cradle of speleobiology, have had a significant impact on the knowledge of this animal species. We are, however, also convinced that the research conducted by scientists studying the olms' genes will significantly affect our lives in the future. Or in the words of one of the key researchers in this project, Prof. Dr. Bolund, "If you were to activate your inner olm, you could replace the organs and limbs just like this amphibian is able to."