Animal of the Month
January 2017

Name: Caecilian
Scientific Name:

Scientific Classification: Amphibian
Class: Aphibia
Order: Siphonopidae
Family: Gymnophiona
Number of Species: 183

Size: Ranging from 2-23 ½ inches
Weight: N/A


Worm-like body, smooth skin, small eyes, pointed and bony head with small tentacles.
Color(s): Varies between species. Often dark blue, black or brown. Sometimes yellow or pink. Some species bear stripes.
Behavior: Subterranean or aquatic
Preferred Habitat: The soil of forests, grasslands or wetlands.
Range: South America, Central America and parts of Asia and Africa.
Diet: Lizards, works, termites, mollusks, beetle pupae, small snakes, frogs and even other caecilians!
Lifespan: N/A

Status: Most species are classed as Least Concern, some are Vulnerable. Some do not have formal evaluations.

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 habitat.

Student Science, "Caecilians: The Other Amphibian"-A detailed article about the study and habits of these remarkable creatures.


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