Non-Native 'Legless Amphibian' Found in Florida Canal Has Been Identified

Scientists recently identified a non-native species that was found in a South Florida canal in 2019. The creature, which some believe is an abandoned pet, looks like a worm, but is actually a "legless amphibian." Scientists were shocked by the discovery, but believe it could thrive in the state.

Florida Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission [FWC] officers found the amphibian while doing a routine survey of the Tamiami Canal, said the Florida Museum of Natural History. Having never seen the creature before, the officers sent a photo of the worm-like amphibian to Coleman Sheehy, Florida Museum's herpetology collection manager. He identified the creature as Typhlonectes natans, better known as the Rio Cauca caecilian.

The caecilian died in captivity, but its body was sent to Sheehy for further analysis. The museum also reported other caecilians have been found in the canal, so Sheehy will soon conduct fieldwork at the canal to "determine their numbers and range."

"At this point, we really don't know enough to say whether caecilians are established in the C-4 [Tamiami] Canal," Sheehy said to those at the museum. "That's what we want to find out."

Scientists with the museum said the Rio Cauca caecilian is native to Venezuela and Colombia. Caecilians hunt small animals, but experts are not yet sure how the amphibian will affect the local ecosystem. They are fairly confident, however, the animal won't present any sort of danger.

"Very little is known about these animals in the wild, but there's nothing particularly dangerous about them, and they don't appear to be serious predators," said Sheehy. "They'll probably eat small animals and get eaten by larger ones. This could be just another non-native species in the South Florida mix."

Iguanas and pythons are just two of some other well-known, non-native species living in South Florida.

Caecilians are "reclusive," and have "extremely poor eyesight," said those with the museum. Apparently, their name translates to "blind ones."

National Geographic noted caecilians are "rarely seen by people" as they live most of their lives underground, and they are powerful diggers with sharp teeth that allow them to capture their prey. There are over 200 species of caecilians, which range in size from 3.5 inches to nearly five feet.

While fossils of ancient caecilians dating back 170 million years have been found in the southwest, "no representatives of this lineage live in the U.S. today," apart from the caecilians recently found in South Florida, said the museum. But while they're very new to both the state and the country as a whole, Sheehy believes they could do very well in the Tamiami Canal, as they are native to warm, slow-moving bodies of water.

"Parts of the C-4 [Tamiami] Canal] are just like that," Sheehy said. "This may be an environment where this species can thrive."

In 2018, a type of caecilian was found in Panama, and U.K. sustainable construction firm EnviroBuild reportedly named the amphibian Dermophis donaldtrumpi. They apparently bought the right to buy the name in an auction run by non-profit environmental organization Rainforest Trust, in which all proceeds went toward the funding of various conservation projects.

caecilian
Scientists recently identified a non-native amphibian species that was found in a South Florida canal in 2019. The creature is called a Rio Cauca caecilian. Pictured above is an Indotyphlops Battersbyi, a different species of caecilian found in India. ePhotocorp/iStock