Florida’s new non-native creature can grow to 5 feet long, resembles a snake or eel

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Add another strange-looking, non-native animal to the heap of critters that has apparently made Florida its home.

The Caecilian, a legless amphibian that ranges from 5 centimeters to 5 feet long and resembles an eel or a snake, was discovered in a canal in Miami by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers.

It’s believed to be the first example of an introduced caecilian (pronounced “Sicilian”) in the United States, the Florida Museum of Natural History said Wednesday.

The Rio Cauca caecilian, or Typhlonectes natans, is the most common caecilian in the pet trade and scientists suspect the one found in Miami was an unwanted pet that was released.

“I didn’t think we’d one day find a caecilian in Florida,” Coleman Sheehy, herpetology collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said in a statement.

“So, this was a huge surprise.”

Florida already has plenty of non-native species such as the arapaima, termites, lionfish, Burmese pythons and certain types of lizards and iguanas.

This one, at least, appears relatively harmless, although scientists said it’s too early to know their impact in South Florida.

Some caecilians live largely underground. But other species, such as the one found in Miami, prefer warm, slow-moving bodies of water with aquatic vegetation, which fits the description the Tamiami canal where the amphibian was netted in good health during a routine survey.

Caecilians have poor eyesight — the name translates to “blind ones” in Latin — and two sensory tentacles between their eyes and nostrils that might help them find food. They eat small animals and could be prey for larger animals.

Scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History were sent a photograph of the 2-foot long snake-like creature after it was caught by FWC officers.

Attempts to feed it while in captivity failed and it eventually died. It was then sent to the museum and was identified through DNA testing.

The caecilian is native to Colombia and Venezuela although it has been found in tropical Africa and southeast Asia. The northern tip of its range in the Western Hemisphere is southern Mexico.

“Very little is known about these animals in the wild,” Sheehy said, “but there’s nothing particularly dangerous about them, and they don’t appear to be serious predators.

“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.”

Sheehy has received several other specimen samples as well as reports of caecilians in the canal, known as C-4, where the first one was discovered. Scientists are investigating to determine their numbers and range in South Florida.

“At this point, we really don’t know enough to say whether caecilians are established in the C-4 Canal,” Sheehy said. “That’s what we want to find out.”

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