The other night I was returning to base when I caught something slithering off the road. I assumed it was a snake, but when I saw what it really was I called everyone else over and told them to look at what I had found, since they were never going to see one again. It was a caecilian.
Caecilians look like worms, act like snakes, and feel like frogs, but that really doesn’t do justice to how fantastically weird they are. They are legless amphibians, a distinct lineage whose closest living relative are salamanders but whose closest fictional relative is something out of a David Cronenberg movie.
Because besides the lack of external limbs–or external anything, for that matter–caecilians have perfectly smooth segmented bodies with a face so featureless it is often confused for the tail. The ones around here are usually a dull purplish grey, as if they were really going for the whole “alien nightmare” look. It’s almost a subtle body horror. Whereas spiders and snakes evoke a knee-jerk terror response, caecilians are more spine-tinglingly unsettling. Until they open their little toothy mouths or extend their nose tentacles. Oh yeah, they have nose tentacles. Did I not mention that?
Almost all species are exclusively fossorial, meaning they live underground and can justify their eyeless, limbless physiology. They excrete toxic slime for defense and lubrication and prey on worms. Unusual for amphibians, many species show parental care, with females often nursing their young. But before you get all mushy, I should note that they nurse their young on their own skin, with even unborn young scouring off the interior of their mother’s oviduct with their teeth. I will repeat: the babies eat their mother’s skin.
Needless to say, I’m fascinated by these things. And due to their habits, they are very rarely seen. The only other time I’ve seen them was when I was digging up a septic tank and unearthed a nest about a meter down. I just put down my shovel and a bunch of fat, purple worms came wriggling out. Fabulous.
So to see one out and about right in the middle of the road? I had to make the most of it. Unfortunately, the little guy wouldn’t hold still and proved too slimy to restrain for long. But I think both he and I had the desired effect on the assembled crowd, who left either enthralled or revolted. Or a bit of both.
As far as other caecilian facts go, I’m going to list them here before any of you jokers do in the comments:
–Caecilians can never go against the family
–A caecilian can never refuse a request on the day of his daughter’s wedding.
–Never ask a caecilian if he is Italian
–If a caecilian winks at you, you will be dead by sunrise.
–Never go up against a caecilian when death is on the line.