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Birth of baby 'dragons’ in ancient cave in Slovenia

Scientists in Slovenia have captured a cave olm, also known as a 'dragon,' giving birth on camera.

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Dragons are still the stuff of legend. But in Slovenia, a bizarre, cave-dwelling olm salamander serves as a worthy, real-life stand-in.

For the past four months, biologists have been closely watching a clutch of "dragon" eggs at the Postojna Cave in southwestern Slovenia. No one had ever witnessed the birth of an olm outside of a lab until Wednesday, when two baby olms emerged from their eggs, to researchers' delight.

"Our first dragon literally shot itself out of the egg in a single attempt," Postojna Cave Park, which operates the cave, said Wednesday in a press release.

The remarkable birth was caught on an infrared camera that biologists have been using to keep close tabs on the eggs throughout their incubation.

"We took care of the eggs non-stop, observing them, connecting scientific findings with our own experience.... We had to take decisions nobody had taken before. Everything was new," Postojna Cave Park said in the announcement.

Out of 64 eggs laid, only 23 appear to be viable. The first two hatched on Wednesday at Postojna Cave in southwestern Slovenia. The mother has been kept separate from her eggs for their safety, after the last clutch laid in the cave was lost entirely. 

The scientists are hoping to see more healthy larvae emerge soon.

"It is the end of one part of the story and the beginning of a whole new chapter: feeding and living without the egg," Sašo Weldt, a biologist at Postojna Cave Park, told the BBC.

Olms face much tougher odds for survival in the wild, where it's estimated that only one or two eggs might hatch out of a clutch of 250. Olms have only previously been observed emerging from their eggs in the lab.

Olms can live to 100 and only lay eggs twice every ten years. They tend to live in deep caves throughout the Balkans, largely inaccessible to human researchers. They were first documented in the 17th century by local Slovenians who mistook the bizarre creature for a baby dragon.

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