Range:

Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and southern Mexico to Argentina

Habitat:

Loose soil and ground litter in tropical forests, or in rivers or streams

Legless amphibians

Caecilians (pronounced seh-SILL-yens) are tropical amphibians that look like large worms or slick snakes. They have no arms or legs, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which end is the head and which is the tail! Their shiny skin is ringed with skin folds called annuli. Caecilians usually come in shades of gray, brown, black, orange, or yellow. Some species have tiny, fishlike scales within the rings.

At home in dirt or water

Most caecilians are burrowers, living in a network of tunnels underground. A hard, thick, pointy skull helps these amphibians dig in soft dirt. Because of their underground lifestyle, caecilians have little need to see or hear. So, their eyes are tiny in some species or hidden under the skin or skull in other species, making just gray bumps for eyes.

Caecilians are the only amphibians to have tentacles.
Caecilians get their name from the Latin for blind or hidden, “caecus.” This is apt, as many caecilian species have no eyes and all live underground.
Some caecilian species are born with short, blunt teeth, used peel off the outer layer of the mother’s thick skin for food. This behavior is called dermatotrophy.

The San Diego Zoo received two ebony-skinned caecilians in 1993. They were the first of any caecilian species in our collection. We didn't know much about them, but keepers did some research and learned they seemed to like worms—a lot! The 2 ate about 20 worms each week. Yet we could not find a way to display them to our guests, as the animals live (and hide) in dirt.

We currently do not have any caecilians in our collection.

Habitat loss threatens many caecilian species. And they are often confused with snakes in some areas and killed on the spot. The Basilan Island caecilian Ichthyophis glandulosus is endangered.

You can help us bring species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.