South American 'Penis Snakes' Discovered in South Florida

An obscure, legless amphibian, colloquially referred to by some as a 'penis snake,' is the latest invasive species to make its way to South Florida.

Penis Snake
Complex News

Image via Florida Museum of Natural History

Penis Snake

A legless amphibian, commonly referred to by some as a “penis snake,” is the latest invasive species to make its way to South Florida.

According to a report for the Florida Museum of Natural History, recent DNA testing confirms that the legless amphibians discovered in Tamiami Canal near Miami International Airport are caecilians, otherwise known as penis snakes or rubber eels.

Native to Colombia and Venezuela, the creatures can range in size from a a few inches to five feet long, depending on the species.

“Very little is known about these animals in the wild, but there’s nothing particularly dangerous about them, and they don’t appear to be serious predators,” Coleman Sheehy, manager of Florida Museum’s Herpetology Collection, said in a recently published report. “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.”

The first Florida Typhlonectes natans specimen, which was 2 feet long, was captured in 2019 in Miami’s C-4 Canal, near Miami International Airport. After it died in captivity, it was sent to the Florida Museum for DNA analysis.

“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. I didn’t think we’d one day find a caecilian in Florida. So, this was a huge surprise.”

According to Sheehy, Typhlonectes natans is the most common caecilian in the pet trade and will generally breed in captivity, where it gives birth to live young. The species typically lives in warm, shallow bodies of water with aquatic vegetation.

“Parts of the C-4 Canal are just like that,” Sheehy said. “This may be an environment where this species can thrive.”

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