Communication and Perception
Because it inhabits permanently dark environments, Proteus anguinus has developed non-visual sensory systems to better suit an aphotic lifestyle. Its eyes still retain some light sensitivity, but they are greatly reduced. Highly sensitive chemoreceptors allow olms to detect extremely low concentrations of organic material in the water. Olms use this ability to distinguish species of prey and their abundance. Functional ears, which may register sounds from the surrounding water as well as the ground, are complemented by olms' lateral line organ, which detects low-frequency water displacement in the nearby surrounding environment. All members of the genus Proteus contain an ampullary electroreceptor which is used to detect electric fields. The main function of their ampullary electroreceptor is not known, but it is suspected top be used for locating prey. Behavioral studies suggest that Proteus anguinus is also able to detect and orient itself to magnetic fields.
Little is known about the forms of intraspecies communication of olms. Potential mates have been observed using tactile stimulation – each mate touching its snout to the others cloaca. Before this, the male waves his tail in front of the female’s head. Because visual perception is minimal in the species, the purpose of such courtship behaviors is believed to be linked to pheromones and chemoreception. To establish and defend their territories, males are not known to use chemical clues, but rely on physical competition. The specialized sensory adaptations observed in olms have led scientists to use the species as a model for studying the effects of permanent darkness on the evolution of such traits. (Arntzen, 2009; Bulog, 1989; Bulog, 1999; Dumas, 1998; Sessions, 2010a)
Communication Channels: tactile; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones
Perception Channels: tactile; acoustic; vibrations; chemical; electric; magnetic