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Giant Amphisbaenian Fact File

Amphisbaena alba

Credit: Diogo B. Provete, CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons

Weight

Insufficient

Data

Length

75cm

(29.5in)

Lifespan

Wild 15 years

Captive 15 years

Diet

Carnivore

Insects, Mice

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

Is it a worm, Is it a Snake? No, What is it Then!

The amphisbaenians are classed in the same order as snakes and lizards (squamata) and are a species of legless reptile. The giant amphisbaenian is as their name suggests one of the largest in the group.

This species is a carnivore which will hunt for insects and mice underground. They are equipped with a strong jaw to seize prey.

They spend much of their time underground. Often they inhabit the nests of ants and termites which are also a food source.

Unfortunately this species has been threatened by collection to be used in the production of traditional medicines.

Read on to learn more about these rarely seen reptiles.

Appearance

What does the Giant Amphisbaenian look like?

As their name suggests the giant amphisbaenian is one of the world's largest species of amphisbaenian. These unique reptiles may also be known as worm lizards and lack legs or an obvious eye.


Across their body they are colored pale brown or ivory white with little to no patterning. The scales will form a series of rings running along the body. The face and the end of the tail are pale in comparison to their tail.

Their tail is rather large and thick giving the appearance that they have two heads.

The eyes of the giant amphisbaenian are largely reduced and the ears are fully recovered.


An average individual would measure 75cm (29.5in) long. Both male and female share similar features and patterning.

Adaptations

How does the Giant Amphisbaenian survive in its habitat?


These animals are equipped with a forked tongue. This is adapted to detecting two scents at once.

Their skin is adapted to reduce water loss. Most water loss is attributed to respiration.

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Diet

What does the Giant Amphisbaenian eat?

These animals are carnivores. They will feed on invertebrates such as earthworms and beetle larvae. Some have also been recorded to eat reptile eggs and small mammals such as mice.

Much of the water needs are obtained through their food.

Learn more about the Giant Amphisbaenian in this video from John Kokenzie, Jr. on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the Giant Amphisbaenian?

South America is the native home of the giant amphisbaenian. Here they can be found in the following countries – Bolivia; Brazil; Colombia; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guyana; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.

It is likely that they have the largest range of any amphisbaenian.

Habitat

Where can the Giant Amphisbaenian survive?

These animals will make their home in forest, savanna, shrubland and grassland. They have shown the ability to live in cultivated fields.

Much of their time is spent in a burrow system. They will make use of the nests of ants or termites and can also be seen hidden under decaying logs. Their body is muscular to allow them to burrow in to the soil.

Giant Amphisbaenian (Amphisbaena alba)

Credit: Diogo B. Provete, CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons

Reproduction

How does the Giant Amphisbaenian produce its young?

Females deposit their young in clutches of 8 to 16. They have one of the largest clutches of any amphisbaenian.

Egg laying occurs in the nest of a leaf cutter ant colony.

Young are equipped with an egg tooth which they will use to break out of their egg. At hatching the young may have some small black spots across their body.

Behavior

What does the Giant Amphisbaenian do during its day?

Due to the muscular contractions which they use to push themselves along they are able to move backwards and forwards.

Their activity pattern is variable across their range. In some areas they are active by day while in others they are active by night.

Where needed these animals are able to swim.

Predators and Threats

What stops the Giant Amphisbaenian from surviving and thriving?

Natural predators of the giant amphisbaenian include birds such as hawks and snakes.

When threatened this species will bend its body in to a horseshoe shape. They then raise both the head and tail giving the impression that they have two heads and are a larger threat.

Unlike similar species they are unable to lose their tail if threatened.

Populations of the giant amphisbaenian are considered stable across their range.

No major threats to this species are recognized. They may be less susceptible to climate change as they live below the ground.

In some areas they are captured for use in a traditional remedy to combat bone ailments.

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Quick facts

The giant amphisbaenian is also known as the red-worm lizard, giant worm lizard or white-bellied worm lizard.


This species was first described for western science in 1758.

Their name, Amphisbaena is taken from a Latin word meaning "fabulous serpent with a head at each end.'

Giant Amphisbaenian (Amphisbaena alba)

Credit: Diogo B. Provete, CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Ibáñez, R., Jaramillo, C., Cacciali, P., Carreira, S., Avila-Pires, T.C.S., Aparicio, J., Gonzales, L., Perez, P., Schargel, W., Rivas, G. & Murphy, J. 2019. Amphisbaena albaThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T176224A1436233. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T176224A1436233.en. Accessed on 03 January 2022.

Mohammed, S. 2022. Amphisbaena alba (White Worm Lizard). [online] Available at: <https://sta.uwi.edu/fst/lifesciences/sites/default/files/lifesciences/images/Amphisbaena%20alba%20-%20White%20Worm%20Lizard.pdf> [Accessed 5 January 2022].

The Reptile Database. 2022. Amphisbaena alba. [online] Available at: <https://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Amphisbaena&species=alba> [Accessed 5 January 2022].

Vieira, J., 2022. White Worm-Lizard (Amphisbaena alba). [online] Reptilesofecuador.com. Available at: <https://www.reptilesofecuador.com/amphisbaena_alba.html> [Accessed 5 January 2022].

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