Zoo Animals

Aquatic Caecilian

Aquatic caecilian

Typhlonectes natans

At the Detroit Zoo
The Detroit Zoo is home to three aquatic caecilians, two males and one female. Unlike most caecilians, the aquatic caecilian spends its life underwater, breathing mostly through its skin and only coming to the surface occasionally to breathe through its lungs. It lives in a densely vegetated habitat with clean water that is not exposed to high sunlight. Although the aquatic caecilian is technically nocturnal, it can be seen active during daytime hours. The aquatic caecilian has a sensor – a small tentacle – on its nose, which it uses to feel its surroundings and can be seen “rooting” with its nose in plants and gravel, searching for food. It tends to rest at the top of the water. The aquatic caecilian can be seen in the award-winning National Amphibian Conservation Center – a leader in amphibian conservation and research – which houses a spectacular diversity of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians.

Native to Columbia and Venezuela, the aquatic caecilian may not look like a typical amphibian due to its lack of limbs. The aquatic caecilian is a limbless amphibian, with rings of skin folds around its body giving it a look similar to an earthworm. It has smooth and slimy skin, typically dark gray, and small eyes. Larva are live-born, as aquatic caecilians do not lay eggs.

Fun Facts

  • The name “caecilian” is derived from the Latin word for blind, referring to its small eyes.

  • The aquatic caecilian can still survive in polluted and degraded habitats.

  • It has four rows of teeth.

  • Larval aquatic caecilians feed on its mother’s uterine lining prior to birth.