New Species Of Skin-Eating Amphibian Found In French Guiana

By Staff Reporter on March 26, 2013 8:17 AM EDT

A new species of skin-eating caecilian has been discovered in French Guiana, whose offspring peel off and feed on their mother's skin, reports Planet Earth Online. 

The new species of worm-like amphibian, scientifically named Microcaecilia dermatophaga, is the first species to have been found in French Guiana in the last 150 years. Microcaecilia dermatophaga is one of the four species whose young eat skin. "What we've found is another species that's a skin-feeder, but most importantly, it's another species that's quite distantly related to other skin-feeders we've found, meaning that skin-feeding is probably an ancestral characteristic for caecilians," Dr Emma Sherratt, from Harvard University, said in a press release.

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Caecilians are strange little creatures that are often mistaken for worms or snakes, as they do not have legs. But, they are amphibians like frogs and toads. These creatures have existed since before the dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

It is difficult to study caecilians as most of the species live underground. Their color ranges from pink to dark grey and have ring-like ridges on their body that give them a worm-like appearance. Caecilians are nearly blind as their eyes are covered by bone. But, the tentacles on the front of their head act as a "sixth sense" and help them detect chemicals in the soil.

The newly-found caecilian species is different from other three species of skin-eating amphibians with fewer ring-like ridges. They are also pink in color as they lack the pigment to get a dark grey color.

The mother of the skin feeders grows an extra layer of skin that is rich in fats, so as to allow the young ones to peel off and eat it. A specialized set of teeth helps the offspring to scrape the skin from its mother's body. Later, they are replaced by more pointed adult teeth as the caecilians grow older.

Microcaecilia dermatophaga feed their young just like other distantly-related caecilians. Scientists believe that this might help in understanding how caecilians as a group evolved.

The details of the findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE

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