Photo: Arne Hodali?
French scientists and their cave-dwelling pets are out to give Austin’s own Barton Springs salamanders a run for their money.
Now, that is some tough talk. We here in Austin are as proud and protective of our salamanders as a squirrel is of his nuts. In fact, Austin hippies are so fond the spring and its natural inhabitants that they have petitioned and protested on behalf of their web-footed friends on more than one occasion. With a posse like that, Real estate developers have a snowball’s chance in hell when it comes to building condominiums near the watering hole. No, that’s still too high a chance. More like a ginger kid’s trying to cross the Arizona-Mexico border in July. Naked.
So, what’s the shtick of these slippery challengers? The European amphibian lives forever. Well, almost. With an average life expectancy of 69 years and a projected maximum of 102 years, they’ll live longer than many Americans, anyway.
Admittedly, the Olm, as it is commonly known, possesses a bit of flair with aliases like, “human-fish,” and “baby dragon,” but we wouldn’t expect anything less from a French salamander attempting to stage a coup, now would we? The names are the result of the Olm’s pinkish color, largely due to its lightless lifestyle—wandering from nook to nook in caves just ruins a good tan.
After much research, the findings presented by the French scientists finally shed some light on the Olm’s supernatural longevity. Is its secret lower metabolic needs? Nah. Increased antioxidant activity, perhaps? Nope. The unique reason for this amphibian to age so gracefully: IT’S LAZY. That’s right; the Olm’s existence is characterized by “extreme inactivity.” Huh, guess it really is a “human-fish.” Apparently, with no predators in the caves to raise its blood pressure, the salamander just sits around all day waiting for Ally McBeal reruns, which are occasionally interrupted by the need to eat. Good thing it’s blind.
Another interesting trait: The Olm only reproduces every 12 years. Now, this is a much more convincing reason as to why this slippery couch potato might live so long. If we only had to deal with the opposite sex every 12 years we’d live forever, too! With all this information, it’s hard to believe that a French research team would publish that the secret to the fountain of youth is abstaining from food and sex. Maybe they just want the rest of us to enjoy them a little less, knowing that we dig ourselves a little deeper into the grave with each Twinkie and “French” kiss (coincidence?!).
In any case, the long life of the Olm salamander sounds pretty lame. Especially when compared to that of the salamanders at Barton Springs who get to check out UT coeds all summer. Bottom line: our salamanders are way cooler than their salamanders. Even if ours die young from their Austin-inspired, rock & roll lifestyle. So get out there and be one of the first to proudly adorn their vehicle with the following bumper sticker: My salamander beat up your old, lazy-ass baby dragon, and then took his girlfriend to a concert. Welcome to Austin.
For more info: Visit the Live Science Web site and read the full article on the Olm here.