Olm (Proteus)

The olm, or proteus (Proteus anguinus), is a blind amphibian endemic to the subterranean waters of caves of the Dinaric karst of Central and Southeastern Europe. It lives in the waters that flow underground through this extensive limestone region.

This unusual amphibian is blind, lives to 100, and goes ten years at a stretch without food. It lives in the subterranean waters of Italy, Croatia and Herzegovenia, where it skeeves out the locals with its strange, human-like skin. Its nickname, in fact, is the “human fish”. Unlike most amphibians, the olm lives in the water for its whole life. Another oddity of the olm: its neotenic (larval) gills.

Sensory organs

Cave-dwelling animals have been prompted, among other adaptations, to develop and improve non-visual sensory systems in order to orient in and adapt to permanently dark habitats.The olm’s sensory system is also adapted to life in the subterranean aquatic environment. Unable to use vision for orientation, the olm compensates with other senses, which are better developed than in amphibians living on the surface. It retains larval proportions, like a long, slender body and a large, flattened head, and is thus able to carry a larger number of sensory receptors.

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