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Buried-Eyed Caecilians: Scolecomorphidae

Physical Characteristics

Buried-eyed caecilians (sih-SILL-yuhns) are small to medium-sized caecilians. The mouth opens on the bottom of the head because the upper jaw is longer than the lower jaw. The holes for the tentacles are on the bottom of the snout toward the sides, below the nostrils and even with, or slightly in front of, the front edge of the mouth. Buried-eyed caecilians are usually dark purplish gray on the back and sides and cream colored on the belly. Adult buried-eyed caecilians are 6 to 18 inches (15 to 46 centimeters) long.

Buried-eyed caecilians have characteristics that set them apart from other caecilians: The eyes, which are undeveloped and can only distinguish light from dark, are attached to and move with the tentacles and may be exposed when the tentacles are extended. Otherwise, they are covered with, or buried under, bone. Another distinguishing characteristic is that buried-eyed caecilians have no sound-conducting bones in their middle ears.

Caecilians look like earthworms. A series of rings runs the length of the body starting just behind the head. The rings are inside the body and attached to the vertebrae (VER-teh-bree), or the bones that make up the spinal column. Some species of buried-eyed caecilians have one ring, and some have two rings per vertebra (VER-teh-bruh, the singular of vertebrae). The skin is folded over the rings, making grooves between the rings. Some species of buried-eyed caecilians have a small number of scales, and some have no scales, under their skin folds.

Buried-eyed caecilians have no tail. Instead, they have a thick shield of skin at the end of their body. This shield is bluntly rounded and flattened on the bottom side. The opening of the cloaca lies in a shallow, oval space. The cloaca (kloh-AY-kuh) is the chamber in some animals that holds waste from the kidneys and intestines, holds eggs or sperm about to be released to the outside, holds sperm entering a female's body, and is the passage through which young are born. The males of some species have hard spines on the penis.

In some species of buried-eyed caecilians the females are longer than the males because they have many more vertebrae and rings than the males. This characteristic may help the females because the body provides more space for developing young. Male buried-eyed caecilians have larger heads than females. Scientists believe this feature may help males fight one another for mates and territory.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceAmphibiansBuried-Eyed Caecilians: Scolecomorphidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Kirk's Caecilian (scolecomorphus Kirkii): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, BURIED-EYED CAECILIANS AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS