Are you on the search for the fountain of youth? Well, maybe take a page from these strange salamanders, because they seem to have figured it out! Both the axolotl and the olm live in a state of perpetual neoteny, retaining larval characteristics such as external gills into adulthood.
Axolotls have become famous for their amazing regeneration properties; they are able to heal lost limbs in just months, and in certain cases can restore more vital structures such as the central nervous system, eye and heart tissues, and even less vital parts of the brain! Meanwhile, olms have incredible lifespans for reptiles of their size – they live to age 69 on average, with some even surpassing their 100th birthdays!
All About Axolotls
Axolotls are pretty cute, and it’s no wonder why! They are basically perma-children, living in a neotenic state for their whole lives! They retain many features usually common to larvae into adulthood, including a tail, fin, a lack of movable eyelids, and those cute feathery gills that allow them to remain aquatic their whole lives!
Axolotls hail from Mexico, and had a place in Aztec mythology, where they symbolized and incarnation of Xolotl, twin brother of Queztalcoatl. According to legend Xolotl, god of death and lightning, avoided capture by turning himself into an axolotl, or “water dog” in the Aztec language.
Wild axolotls are unfortunately very rare and are becoming rarer every year due to human impact on their natural environment. They hail from a very small area – just two lakes in southern Mexico City! One of these lake – Lake Chalco – no longer exists, having been drained as a flood control measure. Lake Xochimilco is also much smaller than it once was, existing mainly as a series of canals in current times. The axolotl sadly has made the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s annual Red List of threatened species.
However, axolotls are quite abundant in captivity, both as exotic pets and as research animals. They are fairly easy to breed compared to other salamanders, and their large, clear embryos allow for easy observation during the entire development stage. They are also used as models for limb development in vertebrates due to their amazing abilities to regenerate without scarring. The axolotl genome has also been extensively studied, with its 32 billion base pair long sequence published in 2018 – the largest animal genome completed at the time!
Ode to the Olm
The olm is a cave-dwelling salamander from central Europe. Like the axolotl it is found in only one small region of the world, although it’s habitat is slightly larger than the axolotl, spanning through unground waters in the Dinaric Alps.
Like the axolotl, the olm also retains external gills which allow it to breathe underwater, though the olm’s neoteny does not seem to have produced the same level of cuteness as the axolotl. Instead its underdeveloped and nearly invisible eyes, long eel-like body, and fleshy translucent skin make it a bit of a nightmare demon! But maybe you do like its quirky cave monster charm, beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.
Olms are completely blind, but are sensitive to light, which they shy away from. Instead they rely heavily on their other senses which are heightened. They have sensitive hearing that allows them to sense vibrations in the water and on land, and they can smell prey through the dark waters of the caves they inhabit. They can also chow down on large food sources when they find them, and store the nutrients for extended periods of time. They can go 10 years without eating!
The first record of an olm sighting was in 1689 in Slovenia, when heavy rains ejected olms from their caves. People who caught sight of them thought they might be baby cave dragons! Awww.
So which salamander cutie will come out on top? Pick your favorite and let the fun begin! The competition starts at 11 AM EDT on 3/21 and goes for 48 hours!
- Starting Lineup – top 3 players on each team, who earn 75% of their score in bonus points
- All Other Players – earn 50% of their score in bonus points
- Winning Team – 20,000 additional points
- Each Team’s MVP – 5,000 additional points
The winning team is determined by average points per player, with 2x weight given to Starting Lineup players. To qualify for any of the above bonuses or affect the team score, players must earn a minimum baseline of 2,000 points.