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Mexican Caecilian Fact File

Appearance

The Mexican caecilian is a legless member of the amphibian family which resembles a worm in their appearance. They have glossy skin which covers their body. This skin is colored grey, brown or olive-green on top. Their underside is lighter in color.

This is patterned by well defined rings running down the body. The rings are called annuli.

The skin feels slimy and it has been described by researchers as feeling like grabbing a bar of soap.

At the end of the head is a well defined pointed snout. The head features two vestigial eyes though these are covered with skin. Between the eyes is a pair of sensitive tentacles which are used to find food or find their way around.

An adult Mexican caecilian will measure between 30 and 50cm (11.8-19.7in) long.

Diet

The Mexican caecilian is a carnivore. Their diet is mainly composed of invertebrates such as termites, snails and earthworms. Lizards and mice may also be eaten.

They attack the prey item and then spin around to disorient it before it is dragged underground to be eaten. Food is swallowed whole.

Mexican caecilians are a sit and wait predator. They will lie motionless and wait for prey to come to them.

mexican caecilian

Scientific Name

Dermophis mexicanus

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Length

30-50cm (11.8-19.7in

Lifespan

13 years

Diet

Carnivorous

Range

Despite their name the Mexican caecilian is not only found in Mexico. They can also be found throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Habitat

They make their home in burrows which are dug through loose soil. Mexican caecilians create their burrow themselves. They may also live under leaf litter. Typically they live under forest cover.

Mexican caecilians have shown some adaptability to secondary habitats such as coffee plantations though do seem to require some cover.

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Reproduction

Breeding takes place in May and June during the rainy season.

As an amphibian their reproduction involves the young going through a lifecycle with an egg and larval stage. In Mexican caecilians the egg and larval stages occur inside the mother and she gives birth to the young at the fully developed stage of the lifecycle.

While the young are developing inside mom they rely on secretions from the oviduct wall. To stimulate these the embryos use specialized fetal teeth to scrape the oviduct wall.

This leads to an extended gestation period with young being born after 11 months.

Each litter is made up of between three and sixteen young. At birth the young are well developed already measuring 10-15cm (4-6in) long.

Females mature at two years old and males at three years old.

Behavior

Most of their time is spent underground though at dusk they may come to the surface to forage.

mexican caecilian

Predators and Threats

Humans affect the population of the Mexican caecilian through habitat loss and changes in agriculture.

On occasion they are confused with snakes and killed.

They are captured in small numbers for the pet trade.

Quick facts

The Mexican caecilian is one of 200 species of caecilian.

They are also known as the Mexican burrowing caecilian.

Caecilians are the least studied of the amphibians primarily due to most living under the ground or water.

The name caecilian is taken from the Latin word ‘caecus’ which means ‘blind.’

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Photo Credits

Franco Andreone / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Digimorph.org. 2020. Digimorph - Dermophis Mexicanus (Mexican Burrowing Caecilian). [online] Available at: <http://digimorph.org/specimens/Dermophis_mexicanus/> [Accessed 20 September 2020].

National Geographic. 2020. Caecilians. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/group/caecilians/> [Accessed 20 September 2020].

Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2020. Caecilian | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/caecilian> [Accessed 20 September 2020].

Genomics.senescence.info. 2020. Mexican Burrowing Caecilian (Dermophis Mexicanus) Longevity, Ageing, And Life History. [online] Available at: <http://www.genomics.senescence.info/species/entry.php?species=Dermophis_mexicanus> [Accessed 20 September 2020].

IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. 2020. Dermophis mexicanus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T59545A53988419. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T59545A53988419.en. Downloaded on 20 September 2020.

AmphibiaWeb 2009 Dermophis mexicanus: Mexican Caecilian <http://amphibiaweb.org/species/1877> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Sep 19, 2020.

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