(CNN) – The Postozna Cave, located about an hour southwest of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, is huge, with its own railway line.
However, one of the cave’s main attractions is at the other end of the size spectrum, which is completely unique to Postozna.
They are the “baby dragon” or proteos.
Postojna is one of the most visited underground attractions in Europe during normal travel times.
The locals have known it for centuries and the graffiti dated 1213 proves it. Tourists began to arrive in large numbers after the initial visit of Francis I of Austria, the last Holy Roman Emperor in 1818. About 35 million people have followed in his footsteps.
It’s easy to see why. The cave is so large that a small train travels the first two in a network of 24 kilometers of chambers and underground tunnels.
The railroad ends at the largest congressional hall in 1930, where the Milan Symphony Orchestra performed. From there, a path cuts through six geological layers, crossing a bridge over a valley built by Russian prisoners during the WWI, and continues between the rocky and underground valleys. Spaghetti-thin stalactites and spelothem curtains.
The path, which reaches a depth of 115 meters, sometimes takes visitors through one-meter-wide crevices.
However, the real adrenaline rush is set aside to come face-to-face with the strange creatures found in the Postojna cave system and nowhere else on earth.
Protia, also known as olmes, are 25-centimeter-long blind salamanders that never grow beyond their youth and aquifer.
The locals nicknamed them “dragon chicks” because they were washed away from the posthumous flood, and since the caves are home to dragons, of course these are their chicks, aren’t they?
Today, visitors can be seen swimming between the rocks in a fishing net built for a deeper purpose inside the cave.
“Aren’t they precious?” Madeja Rosa, a big protein fan who works as the head of marketing and public relations at Postojna, asks.
That’s it. With an almost toy-like appearance, they are also sometimes referred to as human fish because they live underwater, but have pink-white skin rather than scales, and cartoon-like fingers on their limbs beneath their red claws.
They may be blind, but seem to hear proteins approaching the audience, and are apparently sensitive to vibrations. One of them stuck in the glass tub near where my face was peeking out.
Is this interesting? Friend?
No, according to Primož Gnezda, a young and enthusiastic biologist who has been studying these creatures for many years.
“The proteins in the cave tank listen to what you have to say and they frantically accept their safety status,” Knesta says while visiting the exhibition space next to the cave.
Proteus, who is seemingly friendly, is known for his unusual behavior, but he does not go out.
“They always stick against the glass for protection,” says Knesta. “It just seemed like a coincidence that it appeared close to your face.”
According to Rosa, protein can live up to 100 years and live a long time without food.
“Seven years for sure,” he says. “No problem for the first two or three years. Then they begin to lose weight, stop moving and wait until the prey is crossed. The individual’s metabolism.”
If they find food, we can forgive their behavior.
“We feed them worms,” says Knesta. “The worms form a small ball in the water and the proteins come and absorb it completely like a vacuum cleaner. Sometimes they eat so violently that you can see the worms coming out with the water.”
Leads to the nursery laboratory, where scientists are licensed to keep 10 ohms for research. A lot of money is spent on these creatures.
“Biologists have studied its DNA,” says Knesta. “Its genetics are like a novel. It’s 16 times longer and more complex than human.”
“There’s a lot of empty space in them too. We do not know why they exist. Imagine a 600 – page book where all the words have to be rusted and the story rebuilt.”
Is there any reason we are so interested?
“Their regeneration is incredible. If they lose a limb, it will grow back. The idea of the investigation is to find the mechanism behind it.”
“Not that their arm or leg needs to grow back, but that a new human arm or leg needs to be created from their own cells in a lab and then glued to it. It’s definitely the farthest in the world. The future.”
Rosa says proteos are beautiful because they do not need to be fed, and they may live longer than you, and in the past they were sometimes given as pets to visiting dignitaries.
“Most of them died,” he adds. “Proteases should be kept at about 13 C. If the temperature rises rapidly, for example from 10 C to 15 C, it will kill them.”
Salamanders, like olms, begin life in water, but then their gills fall off, forming their lungs, walking on land, and maturing sexually; However, proteins remain young and multiply, which is biologically rare, as is their close relative, the Mexican oxolotl.
Om is also a mating dance.
“It’s like,” Knesta says. “When the woman is ready, she approaches the order. When he marries her, he will begin to swim in front of her; she will follow him, and they will make some circles together.”
“At some point, the male will leave the sperm pocket on the ground. She will take it and put it in a pocket. When an egg comes out, it will fertilize itself.”
Not only that.
“You can not tell by their DNA that Om is male or female. Both male and female have the same chromosomes.
The dragon hatches
Great announcement now.
On January 30, 2016, a woman began to feel very regional, attacking if other proteins approached her; To the delight of the researchers, they found him saving an egg.
She immediately withdrew her companions and her tank was isolated. Infrared cameras continued to lay eggs for another eight weeks.
“Eventually it produced 64 eggs,” says Knesta. “In nature, the mother lays her eggs on rocks because there is no real predator in the cave.”
“But a lot can go wrong when the egg grows and two-thirds of the chicks die on their own.”
Four months after the first egg was laid, the first baby dragon was born. It exited, fell to the bottom of the fishpond, and swam prematurely.
In all, 21 people survived.
Since June 2021, two of those five-year-old proteins have been on display.
As Knesta revealed during a visit to Vivaria, they were not only the extraordinary inhabitants of the Postojna.
There are cave cricketers who, if they can not find food, eat their own feet; Toxic Cave Millibeats; Tiny neck beetles, their wings short and attached to the abdomen; Cave prawns, Omes’ favorite snack; And forced crawling spider: In the absence of flying insects inside the cave, spiders use their silks to weave cocoons instead of spider webs.
Speaking of food, when the omes were washed away in the rivers by the flood, did they ever get on someone’s plate?
Rosa says yes. “Until the 1980s they were available at the Trieste fish markets.”
“They taste like squid without the taste. Or they told me.”