Rare blind salamanders, listed vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, have been discovered in five new locations across Europe.
The baby dragons, called Olm, are rare because they are entirely aquatic – eating, sleeping and breeding all underwater, unlike other amphibians.
Not to mention they look pretty bloody strange.
Known to live in caves across southeastern Europe, ranging from as far north as Trieste in Italy down to Montenegro, efforts have long been made to preserve the declining population.
Now, a team of researchers have developed a new system of DNA detection, which has allowed them to confirm their presence in five new caves in Croatia.
The non-invasive survey method, works like crime scene DNA, taking clues from the environment (the water) so that researchers can detect signs of life without ever seeing the animals.
Which is a good job, because when they aren’t breeding, it is extremely rare to catch sight of the cave dwellers.
Judit Vörös from the Hungarian Natural History Museum who led the study, told New Scientist: “Before you would only see these elusive animals if they were washed out of their home after heavy raining, or if you would actually go cave-diving.
“But now we can tell just from some cave water if they are there or not.”
The Olm, first mentioned by naturalist Valvasor in 1689, have also been introduced into a subterranean laboratory in the French Pyrenees and into a pit in Germany in a bid for greater conservation.
They have been listed on the Red List for years, for several reasons.
Chiefly because their area of occupancy is less than 2,000 km2 and distribution is severely fragmented. Furthermore, there is a continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat.