When you say the word "amphibian",
most people will think of frogs or toads. Some people will think of
newts or salamanders. But there is one lesser-known member of the amphibian
family: the caecilian! Caecilians look like worms or snakes, but they
are truly limbless amphibians. They are found in many parts of Central
and South America, and can also be found in Asia and Africa.
Caecilians aren't usually encountered by humans because they live underground,
just like worms. They live in the soil of tropical areas, namely forests,
wetlands or grasslands. Some caecilians live in underwater while some
are terrestrial-dwellers. These amphibians have eyes, though their eyesight
is not very good. They also do not have a sense of hearing. This is
because sight and sound aren't very useful for a creature that lives
underground. What they lack in sight and sound, they make up for with
their sense of smell. Caecilians use their noses and two small retractable
tentacles to track down a variety of prey, including worms, termites,
beetle larvae, snakes, and even other caecilians! They take down their
prey with sharp teeth. They have hard skulls and pointed heads, which
are used for burrowing. Like other amphibians, caecilians breathe through
their skin, however species is equipped with a single lung with which
they can breathe. Caecilians that live in water possess a tail fin that
aids in swimming.
Some caecilian species lay eggs, while others give birth live. Some
caecilian larvae will feed off of a layer of fat frown by the mother!
Like other amphibians, some caecilian larvae are born with gills and
will undergo a metamorphosis in which they lose these gills. Other species
however are born fully grown and do not experience metamorphosis.
Many caecilian species are not currently threatened, though some species
are vulnerable. One species, the Sagalla caecilian of Kenya (Boulengerula
niedeni) was once critically endangered; fortunately as of 2013 it has
been downgraded to endangered thanks to dedicated support from protective
initiatives. Nevertheless this creature is still threatened by the destruction
of its forest habitat, and other caecilians may follow the same fate
if too much of their habitat is degraded. As this group of amphibians
are not well known, there are many species that are not formally evaluated,
and there is still more research to be conducted about them. Caecilians
are a testament to the bizarre diversity of nature. Just because they
are not well-known or they resemble other animals does not mean that
they don't deserve respect and protection. These animals are important
to their ecosystems, even if we cannot see them regularly.
To learn more about caecilians and to help protect them, check out these
awesome articles and websites:
Save Our Species;
Sagalla Caecilian Campaign-Save Our Species has launched a campaign
through the Zoological Society of London, working to restore this caecilian's
Student Science, "Caecilians:
The Other Amphibian"-A detailed article about the study and
habits of these remarkable creatures.