A salamander in an underwater cave in Bosnia and Herzegovina remained still for 2,569 days. That’s seven years and two weeks.
Scientists tell us that olms (Proteus anguinus) are the only species of their genus. They live for more than a century; their reproductive cycles take around 12.5 years to complete. They also move very slowly.
In a study published in the Journal of Zoology, researchers now know just how slowly.
Divers tagged adult olms. The research team then tracked the movements of nineteen individual olms, some for eight years. Most moved around sixteen feet a year; the most active traveled 125 feet in 230 days.
One olm did not move an inch during a seven-year timespan.
The researchers explained that olms do not need to move. They require little oxygen and can go several years without food. Scientists note that the creatures are “very energy cautious and limit their movements to the minimum.” I would agree.
I am impressed by this report that a salamander can remain motionless for more than seven years, but I am even more impressed by scientists who would conduct such a study. “Zoologist specializing in the study of olms” was not a vocation of which I was aware before reading the article.
It turns out, there are twenty-six branches of zoology (see this BioExplorer article for the list.) One of them, entomology (the study of insects), has ten sub-specialties. (If your home has termites, you’ll be especially grateful for isopterologists).
How zoologists encouraged my soul
Reading about the motionless salamander and the scientists who found him, I was reminded of a chapter in Scripture I presume most readers skip over. Nehemiah 3 lists the various groups who worked together to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It’s a litany of names and locations that mean little to us today.
But these people were the difference between life and death in their day.
In the ancient world, walls made a city secure. In a time without national armies and police forces, the walls that protected a city were its best defense against its enemies. The wider and taller, the better.
The residents had to be able to exit and enter their city, however. So they constructed gates at strategic locations, hoping they would be strong enough to repel invaders but mobile enough to permit travel. If even a single gate failed, the enemy could use it to breach the wall and invade the city.
That’s why “Eliashib the high priest” and “his brothers the priests” built the Sheep Gate (v. 1). We don’t normally think of priests as carpenters, but the gate that led to the Temple was vocationally significant to them and vital to their city’s defense.
We find “goldsmiths” working on gates (vv. 8, 31, 32) as well as “one of the perfumers” (v. 8). In short, the entire city worked to defend the entire city.
The next time you wonder if your calling is significant, remember Nehemiah 3. Know that your part of the body is vital to the health of the body (1 Corinthians 12:27). If your gate falls, the city falls. When you use your gifts and abilities for God’s glory and our good, your temporal service yields eternal results.
You may not be interested in motionless salamanders, but zoologists are.
So is God.