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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-Two

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 17 December 2012

Scary MonkeyAlthough this week’s specimen is an amazing looking animal it was in truth, chosen purely because of it’s super cool name which is so much fun to say. It’s scientific name that is. I don’t like to let the cat out of the bag too early as I know you sit on the edges of your seats waiting to hit that button that says ‘more’ which takes you to the big reveal (unless¬† you use one of the many routes onto this blog which doesn’t facilitate that option) but I’m not sure I’ll be giving too much away by telling you the Scientific name for which this animal was elected Specimen of the Week. Do an impression of a snake as you say this word: Ichthyophis. Icccchhhhthyophissssss. Ah, brilliant. If you don’t already know from that, this week’s Specimen of Week is…


**The Common Yellow-Banded Caecilian**


The Ichthyophis glutinosus skeleton at the Grant Museum. LDUCZ-W56

The Ichthyophis
skeleton at
the Grant Museum.

1) Caecilians are strange and uncommonly heard of (compared to say frogs and newts) group of amphibians. To be a caecilian you need to get rid of your limbs, externally anyway (although you may retain some highly reduced ones if you wish), be wormlike in general body plan and have smooth, moist skin. Whilst caecilians do have eyes, they are tiny wee things and are inconveniently covered with skin, meaning that caecilians have to be content with being able to tell if it is light or dark out, and not much else. However, in by way of compensation for poor eyesight, you would gain ability to breath through your skin.


2) There are actually six families of caecilian, and are well travelled as a group, being found in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. The common yellow-banded caecilian was one of the less adventurous members of the family however and is subsequently only found in central and southwestern Sri Lanka. There exists a record of a common yellow-banded caecilian in northeastern India, though it has done little except raise a single dubious eyebrow amongst most researchers.


Check out these gnashers

Check out these gnashers

3) For those of you following the instructions closely on how to become a common yellow-banded caecilian, there will regrettably be disqualifications handed out to all those with claustrophobia or who are otherwise unable to live buried in soil. Common yellow-banded caecilians quite like boggy areas though also frequent evergreen forests, paddy fields and rubber plantations. They will also turn up in people’s gardens and on farmland. Adult common yellow-banded caecilians really enjoy a good dung pile or mound of rotting vegetation. Still up for it? As attractive as that sounds, I think I’ll stick to rhinoceros should therianthropy turn up on Santa’s list of potential Christmas presents.


4) Sadly for us but fortunately for them, caecilians are rarely encountered by humans due to their subterranean life habits. Your chances of spotting one increase greatly after a heavy rainfall however, or in areas where the soil has been turned over. Not the caecilians favourite situation. It has been reported that the common yellow-banded caecilian may be threatened by the extreme levels of habitat loss that are going on in Sri Lanka (as with everywhere else in the world). Also agro-chemical pollution on land and in the water are also causing them some issues.


Common yellow-banded caecilian

Common yellow-banded caecilian

5) Although it may at first glance be hard to tell where one part of the body ends and the next begins, common yellow-banded caecilians have a short tail. At the base of said tail is the cloaca, or ‘hole for reproduction and expulsion of waste products’. It is from here that the eggs are also laid by the female. Although the eggs are laid on land, the larvae grow up in flowing water, making the caecilian an environmental all rounder.

Emma-Louise Nicholls is the Museum Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology

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