An obscure legless amphibian, colloquially known by some as a “penis snake,” is the latest invasive species to make its way to South Florida.
Formally known as the caecilian, these creatures are native to Colombia and Venezuela, but several have been removed from the Tamiami Channel near the Miami International Airport.
Caecilians can range from a few inches to five feet in length and have extremely poor eyesight – their name translates to “blind” in Latin.
However, the “penis snake” has a pair of sensory tentacles between its eyes and nostrils that help it detect food, which it catches with dozens of needle-shaped teeth.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission says Caecilians are harmless.
Obscure legless amphibian known as the ‘penis snake’ is the latest invasive species to make its way to South Florida
The first caecilian that was found in the same channel two years ago has allowed scientists to compare DNA with several other specimens recently extracted from shallow waters outside of Miami International Airport, proving that the new creatures belonged to the species Typhlonectes natans.
The eel-like amphibian found in 2019 was two feet long but died shortly after being taken captive – he starved to death.
Caecilians live both on land and in freshwater, and typically consume worms and termites – but they are known to catch small snakes, frogs and lizards, Wired reports.
Although they look more like snakes, Cecilians belong to the Gymnophiona amphibian order, more closely related to frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts.
Formally called caecilian, these creatures are native to Colombia and Venezuela, but several have been removed from the Tamiami Channel (pictured) near Miami International Airport
Caecilians can range from a few inches to five feet in length and have extremely poor eyesight – their name translates to “blind.”
The 2019 specimen was the first known Cecilian in the United States, although fossil records dating back over 170 million years have been found in North America.
Other than the recently introduced Caecilians to South Florida, no representative of this lineage is currently known to live in the United States.
Coleman Sheehy, head of the Florida Museum’s Herpetology Collection, said in a statement: “Very little is known about these animals in the wild, but they aren’t particularly dangerous and they don’t seem to be. be serious predators.
“They will probably eat small animals and be eaten by larger ones. It could be just another non-native species in the South Florida mix.
Florida Fish and Wildlife say that Caecilians are harmless because they only eat creatures that live in the ground and occasionally frogs.
As this species is usually kept in indoor aquariums and cannot easily escape, experts suspect someone has dumped their unwanted pets into the canal.
Typhlonectes natans is the most common caecilian in the pet trade and will breed in captivity, giving birth to live young.
Since this species is typically kept in indoor aquariums and cannot easily escape, Sheehy suspects someone has dumped their unwanted pets into the canal.
“In Colombia, where the species is native, T. natans inhabits warm, slow-moving streams with abundant aquatic vegetation,” reads the study published in Reptiles & Amphibians.
“Parts of the C-4 channel appear to resemble their natural habitat and may provide an environment where this species could thrive if established. “