This is the olm. It’s a blind cave salamander. Endangered in the wild, it is sometimes regarded as a pet, sometimes as a research subject—and sometimes as something to keep in the fridge for a decade.
The olm is one of those creepy, near-eyeless things that lives in the waters of caves. At least, it did live there. Habitat destruction put it on the endangered species list, but also led to some interesting research. Because olms can be pretty easily contained, researchers set up “cave laboratories,” natural areas in park caves where the animals were preserved and studied. Births, death, and behavior were all recorded. After fifty years of study, researchers found fifty-year-old olms, still looking as spry as they ever were. The fact that these animals are going strong means that olms could live to be over 100 years old.
It’s not an eventful life. The olm lives by smell and by hearing, and their senses in both areas are extremely sensitive. When there’s nothing to be sensed, the olm slows down. In the cold and the dark, there’s no reason to keep a metabolism running hot. That just uses up calories. When olms cool, they can live for years without food. How many years? One researcher kept an olm in his fridge for twelve years without feeding it. It emerged alive. This showed the world that there is an animal that can spend an entire decade without eating, and provided one researcher with the creepiest-ever answer to the question, “How did you spend your twenties?”
Image: Boštjan Burger. Second Image: Arne Hodalič.