The olm, scientifically known as Proteus anguinus, is a small, cave-dwelling, and permanently aquatic amphibian that belongs to the Proteidae family. This unique creature is commonly found in the subterranean waters of the Dinaric karst caves, primarily in Slovenia, Croatia, and Herzegovina.
Characterized by its elongated and eel-like body, the olm possesses numerous fascinating adaptations that suit its subterranean habitat. It lacks pigmentation, having a translucent pinkish or yellowish skin, and its eyes are poorly developed, serving only to detect light. In complete darkness, it relies on sensory organs known as "bodies" that are located on its head. These bodies can detect changes in water pressure, vibrations, and chemical signals, enabling the olm to navigate and locate its prey.
The olm has evolved to live in extreme conditions, including a low-oxygen environment and water temperatures as low as 5°C. Additionally, it possesses a unique metabolic rate that allows it to survive for several years without food. With a lifespan of up to 100 years, it is one of the longest-living amphibians known to scientists.
Due to its rare and remarkable characteristics, the olm has become an object of scientific interest and curiosity. Its study has greatly contributed to our understanding of adaptations to cave systems and the evolution of organisms in extreme environments. As an iconic flagship species of subterranean ecosystems, conservation efforts are being made to protect its fragile habitat, ensuring the long-term survival of this enigmatic amphibian.
The etymology of the word "olm" can be traced back to the Slovene language. The word "olm" itself comes from the Slovene term "človeška ribica", which translates to "human fish". The olm is an aquatic creature that closely resembles a small, pale lizard or eel and is native to the subterranean waters of the Balkan Peninsula. As the olm gained recognition and scientific interest, its Slovene name "človeška ribica" was adapted into different languages, including English, where it became known as "olm".