The Purple Caecilian, Gymnopis multiplicata,
is native to Costa Rica, South America.
What is that peculiar creature in the above image? Did you guess that it is a worm? Many people do, never realizing that there are strange subterranean vertebrates that resemble worms, but are actually amphibians. So far, only 114 species of these creatures, known as caecilians [seh SEE lee ans], have been identified, but because they rarely come to the surface of the earth, the lives, habits, populations and precise species numbers remain mysterious to this very day.
BBC photographers working on a new program, Life in Cold Blood, were filming a female caecilian with her offspring. They document that, besides protecting their offspring, the female allows her young to feed off her body, by peeling her skin off and eating it.
Interestingly, young caecilians have evolved specialized teeth for tearing and removing their mother’s skin.
To capture this never-before-filmed behavior, the camera crew constructed a set that resembles the shallow, humid underground chambers that caecilians typically occupy. Nevertheless, the crew experienced difficulties in filming this behavior because young caecilians only ate their mother’s special nutrient-rich skin once every three days, and the entire event only lasted approximately ten minutes in total. [streaming: 2:07]. Below is a YouTube video, although not as good as the BBC video [0:33];
Caecilians, like all amphibians, have moist and soft skin. They also have two sets of teeth that they use to catch their prey (worms) and to burrow through the soil. As you saw in the linked video, caecilians have tiny eyes, and further, their eyesight is poor.
Caecilians are subterranean animals that can dig burrows that are as deep as five feet. They are found in the tropics, and the adults live solitary lives, except during breeding season. How males and females locate each other is currently unclear.
BBCNews (story, film)