Episode 65 – Taita African Caecilian: The Apoda Shuffle

“…And today we are talking about a slimy tube that has a vague resemblance to a nasty appendage that might shoot out of an alien at Sigourney Weaver. But more on that whenever you get a chance to look up a picture.”

Life in the mud isn’t glamorous, but, like Arnold’s character in Predator, it can make you incredibly elusive. One order of amphibians has a subterranean lifestyle that causes them to be so rarely seen, they can be difficult to study. However, researchers have unearthed a few of their secrets and what they found has made this small order of amphibia some of the strangest kids in class. But underground and offbeat are exactly the kind of creatures we’re after on Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Measure Up

Length – Largest caecilians are 1.5 m (5 ft) – How many caecilians go into the Rocca di Novara, a mountain in Sicily? (4,400 ft) – Hint: At certain angles the mountain is said to appear to have a human face. At its peak, there the remains of pits carved in stone by ancient people to collect snow. – Answer: 880 Caecilians

Order Size – 256 species and 56 genera – How many species of Caecilians go into the total number of Sicilians in Sicily? (5.057 million) – Hint: Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. It saw over 600 years of conflict between 580–265 which are now known as the Greco-Punic Wars. – Answer: 19,753 species

Fast Facts

  • Caecilians have no legs and move in a strange way.
  • Snakes move with side to side motion, gripping the ground with rough scales.
  • But caecilians move more like worms, which is strange for a vertebrate.
  • Researchers believe they have vertebrae that can move independent of their muscles.
    • This allows them to move like pistons, scrunching up and shooting forward.
    • They also have ridged pointed skulls that allow them to burrow in soil.
  • They live underground in the dark and have very little need for eyes.
  • The species that do have eyes have very small eyes.
  • Sometimes eyes are under their skin or even under layers of bone.
  • They have short tentacles in front of the eyes and behind their nostrils that are used to detect different chemicals.
  • A few underwater species only have gills and have no lungs.

Major Fact

  • The Taita African caecilian lays eggs but over 70% of caecilians give birth to live young.
  • Mothers will stay with their young to protect and feed them as they grow
  • However, the teeth of an adolescent is different than adults and may not be good for eating a normal caecilian diet.
  • Instead, these baby teeth are flat spade-shapes that are good for digging into and striping.
  • Plus, some caecilians lay eggs with very little yolk, so the babies hatch prematurely.
  • They can’t hunt and they have weird teeth. So what’s a mother to do? She lets her babies eat her skin.
  • Females grow an extra layer of especially fatty skin that her babies bite off and munch on as they grow.
  • Like adults, they go into a deathroll when they bite, aka long-axis rotations.
  • Babies can eat the mother’s skin off in as little as 7 minutes.
  • This special skin grows rapidly and can be replaced a day later.
  • What about species that are born alive and develop inside the mother?
    • Unborn caecilians will chew on their mother’s uterus.
    • This apparently stimulates the production of a nutritious concoction called uterine milk.
    • These cells regrow for further chopping.
    • I bet you’re glad human babies just kick every so often.


Hey, LDT listeners, we know you love learning about interesting animals, but did you know you can also be apart of the dissemination of interesting animal info? Just use your smartphone to record yourself saying measure up! If you are a fellow podcaster, let us know about your show and we’ll give you a shout out when we air your measure up intro. Thanks for listening and engaging!