Species Description: Wilkinson M, Sherratt E, Starace F, Gower DJ 2013. A New Species of Skin-Feeding Caecilian and the First Report of Reproductive Mode in Microcaecilia (Amphibia: Gymnophiona: Siphonopidae). PLoS ONE 8(3): e57756.
This species can be distinguished from M. taylori in lacking a transverse groove on the first collar. The species is also different from all other Microcaecilia in having fewer than twenty primary annuli that are divided by secondary annular grooves, and unlike other Microcaecilia, it may have narial plugs (Wilkinson et al. 2013).
In preservative, it is lilac to grey in color, with a dark band halfway down its back. From here, there is an abrupt change to very pale lateral stripes before slowly transitioning into a slightly darker underside. The back of the head is not much lighter than the adjacent area of the body, though the underside of the upper jaw as well as the margin of the lower jaw is a bit paler. The underside is paler between the mandibles and the first collar, as are the nostrils, the cloaca, and the lower half of the terminal cap. The annular grooves are somewhat white in color. There are several whitish glands distributed throughout the skin. In life, it has a similar coloration, though the stripe on the back is much more evident. The back of the head is pinker in color, and the underside of the upper jaws as well as the margin of the lower jaw is white (Wilkinson et al. 2013).
Though the morphology is generally the same, there exists some noticeable variation. Generally, the curvature of the upper lip and top of the head differs among specimens. The tentacular aperture is found just below the imaginary line running from the nostrils to the corner of the mouth in one of the paratypes. Two other paratypes have a noticeably less robust lower jaw, and the third nuchal groove of another paratype is more complete on the underside than the described holotype. One of the paratypes has keel-like terminal cap, which is absent in the other specimens. There may be anywhere from 9 - 12 notches on the cloaca (Wilkinson et al. 2013).
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: French Guiana
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
The species seems to fare well in captivity and first direct observation of its breeding behavior comes from captive specimens. The young are known to feed on the skin of the mother, and they do so by tearing bits of the skin with specialized teeth and ingesting it. During this time, the mass of the mother decreases, which is correlated with a mass increase in the young. Eventually, the young become free-living, and switch to feeding on live prey as well as begin to burrow in the soil. The young continue to grow once they leave the mother, and the mother’s mass eventually increases back to its initial state. The young reach maturity at around one year of age (Wilkinson et al. 2013).
Trends and Threats
The specific epithet, dermatophaga, is derived from the Greek words derma, meaning skin, and phago, meaning to eat. This is in reference to the form of parental care provided by the mother to its offspring (Wilkinson et al. 2013).
As this skin-feeding behavior has been observed in two other distantly related caecilian species, it is hypothesized that this is an ancestral form of parental care, and thus is very widespread in many caecilian species. As very little is known about caecilians, more studies need to be conducted to verify this (Wilkinson et al. 2013).
Wilkinson, M., Sherratt, E., Starace, F., Gower, D. J. (2013). ''A New Species of Skin-Feeding Caecilian and the First Report of Reproductive Mode in Microcaecilia (Amphibia: Gymnophiona: Siphonopidae).'' PLoS ONE, 8(3), 1-11.
Written by Marcel Talla (tallakmarcelk AT gmail.com), San Francisco State University
First submitted 2015-09-01
Edited by Gordon Lau (2015-09-11)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2015 Microcaecilia dermatophaga: Angoulême microcaecilia <http://amphibiaweb.org/species/7976> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Oct 19, 2017.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2017. <http://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 19 Oct 2017.
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