AmphibiaWeb - Microcaecilia dermatophaga


(Translations may not be accurate.)

Microcaecilia dermatophaga Wilkinson, Sherratt, Starace & Gower, 2013
Angoulême microcaecilia
family: Siphonopidae
genus: Microcaecilia
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.
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN Red List Status Account Least Concern (LC)
National Status None
Regional Status None



View distribution map in BerkeleyMapper.
View Bd and Bsal data (2 records).

Microcaecilia dermatophaga has a body length of 175 – 181 mm in live male specimens, 148 – 164 mm in preserved male specimens, 183 mm in the lone female specimen in life, and 156 mm in the lone female specimen in preservative. The body is cylindrical in shape and dorsoventrally compressed, though it narrows towards the end by the cloaca. The head appears U-shaped when viewed from above. When viewed from underneath, the snout protrudes a bit past the sunken mouth, and the mouth is duller than the snout tip. The tentacular apertures are moderately aised, and they're visible when viewed from both the back and underside. The eyes are not apparent. The nostrils are small, circular, slightly depressed, and project towards the sides of the back. They are not visible when viewed from the underside. Narial plugs are present on the nostrils. The neck is wider than the adjacent areas of the body. The two collars are marked by three nuchal grooves, with the first two completely encircling the body and the third being incomplete on the underside. There is a prominent transverse groove on the back of the second collar, which is visible from the sides. There are 108 primary annular grooves behind the collars, and most are incomplete on the back and underside. Secondary annular grooves appear on the body from the 100th primary annular groove, and go all the way towards the end of the body with the exception of the 101st primary annular groove. Some annular grooves may be slightly raised. The end of the body is terminated by a cap that is level with the cloaca. Scales are shallowly deposited on the annular grooves nearest to the end. The cloaca interrupts the last two primary annular grooves. There are ten notches around the cloaca (Wilkinson et al. 2013).

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


View distribution map in BerkeleyMapper.
View Bd and Bsal data (2 records).
This species is currently known to occur in Angoulême in French Guiana. It has also been found in two other localities, one in the settlement of Saint Jean, and the other in Cascades Voltaires. In all three localities the species has been recorded only in forested environment with relatively dense canopy and abundant litter on the soil. Most of the specimens were found under decaying logs (Wilkinson et al. 2013).

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Microcaecilia dermatophaga consumes a wide variety of prey, including but not limited to termites, earthworms, crickets, and ants. It is a fossorial burrower, and is known to occur in orange-brown sandy loam with some organic matter, or dark brown, less sandy loam with lots of organic matter. It is an oviparous caecilian species that probably breeds in March or April (Wilkinson et al. 2013).

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
There is currently no information available on trends or threats in this species.

The species authority is: 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.

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.

Originally submitted by: Marcel Talla (first posted 2015-09-01)
Edited by: Gordon Lau (2015-09-11)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2015 Microcaecilia dermatophaga: Angoulême microcaecilia <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Sep 30, 2023.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2023. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 30 Sep 2023.

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