Scolecomorphus vittatus
Banded Caecilian
family: Scolecomorphidae

© 2016 Dr. Joachim Nerz (1 of 13)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Least Concern (LC)
Other International Status None
National Status None
Regional Status None


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Scolecomorphus vittatus is a long caecilian with a long, slender head and a body that is slightly flattened dorsoventrally. Adults range from 141 mm to 376 mm (Nussbaum 2003); one author has reported a maximum length of over 400 mm (Gower et al. 2004) and one of 450 mm (Harper and Vonesh 2003). Body width is about 15 mm (Harper and Vonesh 2003). There are 120-148 primary annuli (Nussbaum 2003). A sample of 10 adult males and 10 adult females showed no evidence of sexual dimorphism (Jones et al. 2006), although at least one field guide refers to females being larger and having more annuli (Harper and Vonesh 2003). The body is somewhat tapered anteriorly (Gower et al. 2004). The skull is zygokrotaphic and the head shape is slightly compressed dorsoventrally (Gower et al. 2004). Stapes are absent, as is the case for all scolecomorphids (Loader et al. 2003). Although the orbit is covered by bone, eyes are relatively well-developed (Wake 1985) and are protrusible from the skull (Taylor et al. 1968; Nussbaum 1985; O'Reilly et al. 1996). Tentacles are long and slender, and are close to the snout tip, positioned on the underside of the snout and level with the mouth or anterior to the margin of the mouth (Gower et al. 2004; Loader et al. 2003). Palatine teeth extend posteriorly from the end of the maxillary tooth row rather than overlapping with the maxillary series (Gower et al. 2004). Adult scolecomorphids have three series of pointed and recurved monocuspid teeth: the premaxillary–maxillary and prevomeropalatine series in the upper jaw and the dentary series in the lower jaw. In S. vittatus the premaxillary-maxillary series has 14-25 teeth, the prevomeropalatine series has 9-21 teeth, and the dentary series has 17-31 teeth (Nussbaum 1985).

This species is brightly colored for a caecilian; it is not known whether the coloration is aposematic. The venter is bright red to pink. A dark stripe (black, dark brown, or purple) is present on the dorsum. The chin area is darker brown to pink. The vent area is pink or cream (Harper and Vonesh 2003).

A juvenile specimen has been described by Loader et al. (2003). This specimen was collected in 1973 in the North Pare Mountains, Tanzania, from a locality where the only known caecilian species is S. vittatus; it was dug out from rich, moist soil in a banana/coffee plantation. The specimen measured 72 mm in length, placing it as a juvenile; it is poorly ossified and may be a newborn. Environmental debris consisting of mineral and soil particles was found to be present in the hindgut. The juvenile specimen lacks secondary annuli and has a terminal shield and a longitudinal vent, as would be expected for Scolecomorphus. It also has a number of features that are not present in adult Scolecomorphus: paraoral processes on the cheeks that form lateral expansions of the upper jaws, border a ventral concavity on the snout, and also bear a few extraoral monocuspid teeth that lie outside of the mouth and point upward and outward; very flexible articulation of the mandible with the cranium; heterogeneous dentition with single rows of adult-like monocuspid teeth in addition to several supernumerary teeth (of which some are bicornute); and a concavity on the underside of the throat in the second nuchal collar, bordered by longitudinal ventrolaterally directed rostral ridges that terminate at the posterior margin of the second nuchal collar in what looks like a fleshy nipple. Although the presence of marginal tooth rows with larger adult-type teeth and smaller supernumerary teeth with occasional bicornute crowns is typical of newborns of other viviparous caecilians (Wake 1977), the extraoral teeth of this specimen are not of the "fetal type" and are located on the upper jaw, unlike any other caecilian specimen reported (Loader et al. 2003). The snout shape is somewhat different than that of adults, being more wedge-shaped with a more pointed snout tip than the bluntly rounded subconical snouts typical of adult scolecomorphids (Loader et al. 2003).

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Tanzania, United Republic of


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Scolecomorphus vittatus occurs in eastern and northeastern Tanzania, in the Nguu, Nguru, Usambara, Uluguru, Ukaguru, and the North and South Pare Mountains (Loader et al. 2004), although it is not clear whether specimens from the North Pare Mountains may in fact be a different species (Doggart et al. 2008). S. vittatus is found in tropical rain forest and cleared agricultural areas in montane, submontane, and lowland regions (Loader et al. 2004). The elevational range is 400-1,500 m asl (Loader et al. 2004). S. vittatus inhabits litters and moist soils, as well as spending considerable time on the surface (Gower et al. 2004).

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
This species is thought to be viviparous, with smaller altricial offspring that may require more extended post-parturition parental care (Mode II of caecilian viviparity), based on the dentition and the weak ossification of the single juvenile specimen (Loader et al. 2003).

A study conducted of S. vittatus and Boulengerula boulengeri in the Nilo Forest Reserve, East Usambara Mountains, found that S. vittatus was almost always collected above ground, in contrast to B. boulengeri (Gower et al. 2004). Specimens of S. vittatus spotted by visual encounter were found mostly during the day after periods of rain (Gower et al. 2004).

The diet consists primarily of large, surface-active earthworms; soil arthropods are also consumed but in lower numbers, including ants of the family Myrmicinae (Jones et al. 2006). Harper and Vonesh (2003) mention that in the East Usambara Mountains S. vittatus is known colloquially as the Queen of the Ants, as it has been observed at the front of a trail of ants without being attacked by the ants.

This species is parasitized by oxyurid nematodes (Jones et al. 2006).

Trends and Threats
Not threatened. It is common in some localities. It occurs within a number of protected areas (see Howell et al. 2006; Loader et al. 2004).

Scolecomorphus vittatus is the only known vertebrate with mobile, protrusible eyes (O'Reilly et al. 1996).


Channing, A., and Howell, K. M. (2006). Amphibians of East Africa. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

Doggart, N., Leonard, C., Perkin, A., Menegon, M., and Rovero, F. (2008). The vertebrate biodiversity and forest condition of the North Pare Mountains. TFCG Technical Paper No. 17. Tanzania Forest Conservation Group, Dar es Salaam. Available from

Gower, D. J., Loader, S.P., Wilkinson, M. and Moncrieff, C.B. (2004). ''Niche separation and comparative abundance of Boulengerula boulengeri and Scolecomorphus vittatus (Amphibia: Gymnophiona) in East Usambara forest, Tanzania.'' African Journal of Herpetology, 53, 183-190.

Harper, E., and Vonesh, J. R. (2003). Field Guide to the Amphibians of the East Usambara Mountains: Preliminary Draft. Unpublished report, available in .pdf format at

Howell, K. M., Ngalason, W., and Werema, C. (2006). Eastern Arc Mountains: Assessment of Forest Reserve Values for Endemic and Near Endemic Vertebrate Species: Amphibians and Birds. A Consultancy Report of the Department of Zoology & Wildlife Conserva. Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Forestry and Beekeeping Division, Tanzania.

Howell, K. M.,and Msuya, C. A. (1980). ''Geographic distribution. Gymnophiona. Scolecomorphus vittatus (Boulenger).'' Herpetological Review, 11, 13.

Jones, D. T., Loader, S. P., and Gower, D. J. (2006). ''Trophic ecology of East African caecilians (Amphibia: Gymnophiona), and their impact on forest soil invertebrates.'' Journal of Zoology, 269, 117-126.

Loader, S., Howell, K., Gower, D., and Measey, J. 2004. Scolecomorphus vittatus. In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. Downloaded on 22 February 2010.

Loader, S.P., Wilkinson, M., Gower, D.J. and Msuya, C. (2003). ''A remarkable young Scolecomorphus vittatus (Amphibia: Gymnophiona) from the Pare Mountains, Tanzania. .'' Journal of Zoology, 259, 93-101.

Nussbaum, R. A. (1985). ''Systematics of caecilians (Amphibia: Gymnophiona) of the family Scolecomorphidae.'' Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology University of Michigan, (713), 1-49.

Nussbaum, R. A. (2003). ''Banded caecilian, Scolecomorphus vittatus.'' Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 6, Amphibians. 2nd edition. M. Hutchins, W. E. Duellman, and N. Schlager, eds., Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.

O'Reilly, J. C., Nussbaum, R. A., and Boone, D. (1996). ''Vertebrate with protrusible eyes.'' Nature, 382, 33.

Taylor, E.H. (1968). The Caecilians of the World. A Taxonomic Review. University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas.

Vestergaard, M. (1994). An annotated and illustrated checklist of the amphibians of the Usambara Mountains, with a tentative key and the description of two new taxa. Cand. scient. Thesis, Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen.

Wake, M. H. (1977). ''Fetal maintenance and its evolutionary significance in the Amphibia: Gymnophiona.'' Journal of Herpetology, 11, 379-386.

Wake, M. H. (1985). ''The comparative morphology and evolution of the eyes of caecilians (Amphibia, Gymnophiona).'' Zoomorphology, 105, 277-295.

Written by Peera Chantasirivisal (Kris818 AT, UC Berkeley
First submitted 2005-09-27
Edited by Kellie Whittaker (2010-02-22)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2010 Scolecomorphus vittatus: Banded Caecilian <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Oct 20, 2017.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2017. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 20 Oct 2017.

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