When one thinks of the word "amphibian," what likely comes to mind for most people is a frog or similar creature. But officials with Florida Fish and Wildlife announced in late July 2021 that they had captured an invasive species of amphibian in southern Florida's Tamiami Canal. Known as caecilians, these amphibians resemble oversized worms:
Some invasive species are destructive to their new environments, but experts said that might not be the cause with caecilians.
"Very little is known about these animals in the wild, but there’s nothing particularly dangerous about them, and they don’t appear to be serious predators," said Coleman Sheehy, herpetology collection manager, in a news release published by the Florida Museum of Natural History. "They’ll probably eat small animals and get eaten by larger ones. This could be just another non-native species in the South Florida mix."
The museum said Sheehy was first alerted that the creature might be trying to claim new digs in South Florida in 2019 when Florida wildlife officials, confused by the "two-foot-long eel-like animal," sent him a photograph of one netted in the canal. A DNA test revealed that it was a caecilian.
The animals' natural habitat is tropical, and they inhabit southern Mexico, Southeast Asia, and tropical areas of Africa. Apart from the caecilians found in Florida recently, none currently live in the U.S., according to the museum. Sheehy called the discovery in Florida a "huge surprise."
Sheehy's guess is that the animals in the Florida canal are escaped pets:
Typhlonectes natans is the most common caecilian in the pet trade and will breed in captivity, giving birth to live young. Because this species is generally kept in aquariums indoors and can’t easily escape, Sheehy suspects someone discarded their unwanted pets in the canal.
In its native range, Typhlonectes natans lives in warm, slow-moving bodies of shallow water with aquatic vegetation.
“Parts of the C-4 Canal are just like that,” Sheehy said. “This may be an environment where this species can thrive.”