Caecilians - The Forgotten Amphibians
There are over 150 species of caecilians worldwide in 35 genera and at least four families. The numbers are uncertain because these animals are so secretive, very little is known about them. Caecilians belong to the order Apoda or Gymnophiona. Salamanders and newts belong to the order Caudata, and frogs and toads to the order Anura. These three groups make up the class Amphibia. The five families of caecilians include:
1) Caeciliidae: they are found in Columbia (South America)
Although species from each of the families are occasionally found in the pet trade, by far the most commonly available belong to the family Typhlonectidae. The focus of this article will cover the aquatic caecilian.
Fishermen in the waters of South American Rivers commonly catch the aquatic caecilian, Typhlonectes natans. They prefer to live in clear, rocky bottom streams and tend to avoid the more muddy, slower moving tributaries. Because they look and behave like eels, they are often marketed as such.
Range: These animals live in the rivers of northwestern South America. Their range includes central and southern Venezuela west to central Columbia.
Length: 20 inches long (50 cm)
Description: The color is blue-black or dark gray-black. The body is laterally flattened and with a small tail fin, it is often mistaken for an eel. The mouth is recessed behind a very long snout. The skin is loose fitting giving a wrinkled look and the loose skin provides enough surface space to absorb oxygen from the water. Their lungs are greatly reduced in size. Their eyesight is very poor. The body has strong muscles and the skin is very slimy making them difficult to hold. They are a pleasure to watch in the water because they are very graceful swimmers. Sometimes these amphibians are labeled as Typhlonectes compressicauda, a brownish color caecilian from the Amazon River system, which are rarely imported.
Availability: They are not commonly available in pet shops.
Captive Care: The aquarium should be at least 36 inches long filled with about 15 inches of water. The substrate should be gravel covered with plenty of smooth edged rocks laid out in a way to form tunnels and caverns. The rocks should be smooth to protect the sensitive and easily damaged skin. The aquarium must be aerated and have an abundance of aquatic plants. Water should be properly conditioned and of high quality. A slow flowing filtration system will keep the water crystal clear. A tight fitting lid is a must since these aquatic amphibians are brilliant escape artists. Keep the water temperature around 80 degrees F (27 degrees C). Lighting should be dimmed; a "natural light" florescent tube of low wattage can be used. Preferred foods include aquatic worms and insects, small fish, and chopped night crawlers. These foods are eagerly taken. Aquatic caecilians can be kept with most tropical fish. It has been noted that some species in this group can be maintained in an aqua-terrarium environment. Captive species have been known to bury themselves in soil during the day and venture out at night into the water to feed. They seem to be perfectly contented to live in a fully aquatic environment.
Reproduction: Fertilization is internal and species in the genus Typhlonectes are livebearers, however the young do not develop a connection with the uterine wall.
Other Information: Very little is known about caecilians. There
is a considerable lack of information about the natural history and captive
management of these amphibians. If you are serious about keeping these
animals, you have an opportunity to make significant contributions in
understanding captive diets, husbandry, reproduction, disease and longevities.
They are very hardy in captivity and will be an unusual addition for your