Amphibian mothers feed young with their skins, new discovery

This video says about itself:

Why Do These Babies Eat Their Mother’s Skin?

6 May 2015

Legless amphibians, called caecilians, have a very strange way of feeding their young.


A New Species of Skin-Feeding Caecilian and the First Report of Reproductive Mode in Microcaecilia (Amphibia: Gymnophiona: Siphonopidae)

Mark Wilkinson, Emma Sherratt, Fausto Starace, David J. Gower


A new species of siphonopid caecilian, Microcaecilia dermatophaga sp. nov., is described based on nine specimens from French Guiana. The new species is the first new caecilian to be described from French Guiana for more than 150 years. It differs from all other Microcaecilia in having fewer secondary annular grooves and/or in lacking a transverse groove on the dorsum of the first collar. Observations of oviparity and of extended parental care in M. dermatophaga are the first reproductive mode data for any species of the genus. Microcaecilia dermatophaga is the third species, and represents the third genus, for which there has been direct observation of young animals feeding on the skin of their attending mother. The species is named for this maternal dermatophagy, which is hypothesised to be characteristic of the Siphonopidae.


Kupfer et al. [1] discovered a novel form of extended parental care in the oviparous African herpelid caecilian Boulengerula taitanus in which altricial hatchlings feed upon the modified and lipid-rich outer layer of the skin of their attending mothers using a specialised deciduous juvenile dentition.

Subsequently, Wilkinson et al. [2] reported the putatively homologous behaviour and associated morphological and physiological features of maternal dermatophagy in a second species of caecilian, the Neotropical siphonopid Siphonops annulatus. Because these two species of skin-feeding caecilians are not particularly closely related and represent lineages that have been separated for more than 100 million years, Wilkinson et al. [2] suggested that skin feeding was a relatively ancient trait and predicted that it would prove to be more widespread among caecilians.

The Neotropical siphonopid genus Microcaecilia Taylor, 1968 includes eight previously described nominal species of relatively small caecilians with heavily ossified, stegokrotaphic skulls, and small eyes that are covered with bone [3] which suggest they are dedicated burrowers. Very little is known of their biology and there are no previous reports of the reproductive biology of any Microcaecilia. Here we describe a new species of Microcaecilia from French Guiana. Observations of reproduction in captivity reveal that this is a third caecilian species known from direct observation to practice maternal dermatophagy. The species is identified as a member of the Siphonopidae on the basis of being an oviparous caecilian with imperforate stapes and no inner mandibular teeth, and as a Microcaecilia on the basis of having eyes under bone, tentacular apertures closer to the eyes than the nares, and no diastemata between the vomerine and palatine teeth [4].


5 thoughts on “Amphibian mothers feed young with their skins, new discovery

  1. Pingback: Rare caecilian found in India | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: New legless amphibian discovery in Cambodia | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Indian caecilians threatened by traffic | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Dinosaur age caecilian amphibian ancestor discovered? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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