The Long-lived “Human Fish” No One Knows About

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Olm is a fascinating aquatic salamander that lives tucked away in dark caves throughout Europe — and you’ve probably never heard of it.

The Olm, or Proteus anguinus, resides in the underground streams of limestone chambers in caves located throughout the Dinaric Alps, a mountain range stretching from Italy to Kosovo. Their population is most heavily concentrated in Slovenia’s Soča River basin. 

These snake-like creatures are regarded as “human fish” due to the similar contrast of their skin with Caucasian people. Their snake-like bodies grow to up to a foot in length, boasting a unique pink fin and external gills that allow them to live completely underwater.

The enchanting Olm has two amazing characteristics — the ability to live for over 100 years and the ability to hunt with super senses utilizing electric fields.

Image: Facebook

This water salamander is essentially blind, sight being an unnecessary trait for life in the complete darkness of their native habitats. As a result, the creature has supremely developed other senses, including acute hearing and sense of smell.

The body of the olm contains many sensory receptors that serve as its primary life force, most interestingly though, is the presence of electroreceptors. These specialized cells allow the olm to detect electric fields emitted by other animals and scientists suggest they are a mechanism by which the salamander orients itself when hunting for prey.

Researchers out of the University of Lyon have been analyzing these unique animals and determined their average lifespan to be around 69 years, with the oldest olms living to 100 years or more.

This astounding statistic cannot be attributed to normal associations with anti-aging, including slowed metabolisms and protection against free radicals. While more research needs to be performed before uncovering the reason for their extended lifespans, time is of the essence. Changing habitats due to human impact, highlighted by the leaching of chemical pollutants into the olm’s native habitats, have made them vulnerable to extinction.   

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