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FAQs About Rubber Eels, Sicilian Worms... Caecilians

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worm/snake... terr., ID   12/1/11
I live on a fresh water lake. While clearing grass and muck from the lake edge I came across a strange creature. I never heard of it and can't find it in Google.
It is about 4-8 inches long and about an inch in diameter. The head is blunt with no mouth that I could see. The tail is tapered and pointed. It's dark gray to black in color.
I discovered it digging into the lake edge. It moves very quickly, trying to burrow back into the ground. It's so fast; I haven't been able to take a picture.
Any ideas what it is??
<Hello Randy. Without a photo, this is impossible to answer. Yes, it could be some sort of unusually large earthworm, but in different parts of the world there are certainly snakes, legless lizards, caecilians, even fish (particularly eels) that could match this sort of description. Flowerpot Snakes for example are easily mistaken for worms, but they're largely tropical in distribution. Likewise, caecilians are strikingly wormy, but their distribution is very patchy, and so far as I know they're absent from the cooler parts of the world like North America and Europe. So where about are you? That would help. Did the "worm" have openings around its neck that resembled gills? Did it have any sign of fins or legs? Any eyes? Was its
skin uniform in appearance, or segmented, or scaly? Was the animal sleek or slimy? Cheers, Neale.>
Re: worm/snake  12/1/11
Thanks for your response! I will try to be ready for a photo next time, but will have to be FAST. I live in Orlando Florida.
As far as I could see from my quick view, there were no gills, legs, fins, segments, etc. Just a smooth sleek uniform surface. I don't remember any eyes even. It was short, "fat", and very muscular, diving back into the ground very quickly.
The back half tapered to a point.
<Glad to help. Do look up Ramphotyphlops braminus, a snake species reasonably common in Florida though often overlooked. Cheers, Neale.>

sisilian worm 03/24/10
Please help me. I've had my worm
<I assume you mean a caecilian, the aquatic species Typhlonectes natans being the one normally kept in captivity.>
for over 20 years and about @
days ago she developed little white spots on her skin. I haven't had Ick in over 12 years and I dont think it affected her last time.
<Don't know if amphibians can suffer from Ick.><<Cannot as far as I'm aware. RMF>>
Also, she is in a large community tank and all other fish look fine.
<Really, these amphibians shouldn't be kept with fish. Typhlonectes natans need a variety of things, including subtropical -- not tropical -- temperatures; a soft, sandy substrate for burrowing; gentle water current; and lots of floating plants. They're air breathers remember, and if they have problems getting to the surface they won't do well. That you've kept your specimen for 20 years suggests you're getting the basics right, but it's as well I list the key things here so that other people reading this letter can understand the context. Too many people keep them in tanks with gravel (into which they can't dig), no floating plants (making it difficult for them to rest at the top while breeding), and too warm (shortening their lifespan). As with any carnivore, you need to be very careful with their
diet so that you can avoid [a] overfeeding and [b] vitamin deficiency. A good diet would include 3-4 meals per week, consisting of mainly earthworms as well as smaller amounts of bloodworms, prawns, krill and tilapia fillet.>
I live in St. Louis mo, and these kids at the pet stores/ fish stores just want to through chemicals at me even though they have never heard of this animal.
<Do make sure you're actually using a name that means something to other people. They're called caecilians (pronounced "Say-see-lee-ans") and the species you have is likely the so-called Rubber Eel, or Typhlonectes
natans. Remember that they are amphibians, not fish, and you need to visit a reptile/amphibian specialist pet store to buy medications, not an aquarium shop. They are basically tough animals, but they are easily damaged by rough handling and physical abrasion. If their slime coat is abraded their skin becomes vulnerable to secondary infections, which could easily be the case here. They must have soft (smooth, silica) sand to burrow into, and gravel will, eventually, damage their skin. Similarly, nets can scratch them and potentially bites and scratches from things like
cichlids and catfish could cause harm too. Damaged skin turns white.
Provided there was no sign of reddening (which tends to imply bacterial infection) I'd simply ensure optimal environmental conditions and wait for the skin to heal naturally. Since your caecilian is fairly old now, it make
be slower to heal, or more quick to become damaged, than otherwise. Don't confuse normal skin shedding (where the flakes are transparent) with actual damage (where the skin turns white).>
I just want to give the right meds for the correct problem. Any ideas what I might be dealing with?? Thanks for the help, Nikk
<Twenty years is actually a pretty good age for this species, so your specimen may well be showing its age. Cheers, Neale.>

Rubber Eel, killer! 03/26/08I have a rubber eel and he kills everything except the sucker fish, what can I put with him? <Rubber eels, Typhlonectes natans, are no fish, but amphibians. They can eat anything small enough to swallow, so peaceful fish obviously larger than their mouth are generally safe. Don't keep them with aggressive fish. Additionally, caecilians can be kept in groups and sometimes give birth live young. Often, small, always active fish are safe, too. However, only small fish sleeping at the bottom may disappear. If anything else disappears its likely not the fault of the Rubber Eel (they may eat dead fish), or your eel is something else (Ive seen them mixed up with other eels and the clerks without an idea). Ensure your tank is large enough to support the planned tank mates and have a look at http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/rubbereelfaqs.htm . Cheers, Marco.>

Rubber Eel Amphibian With Internal Infection   12/24/06 Hi There, I came upon your webpage hoping to find an answer to my question.  I have a Caecilian (rubber eel) in a 10 gallon tank with a small Cory fish.  I've had it for about 4-5 months and it was doing fine.  Recently, I've been observing erratic behavior:  it floats motionless on the surface, just hanging, or it lets itself get sucked onto the filter.  Before, it would burrow or curl around a rock or the one small plant in the tank. Other behavior includes, what seems like, the amphibian contracting its entire body and gaping its mouth wide open and sinking to the bottom of the tank.  It then frantically gulps and repeats to contract and tighten its entire body and gape its mouth. It also has been gulping for a lot of air at the surface and has stopped eating (I've been feeding it live bloodworms).  I don't have a heater for the tank, and I know they should be kept at 74-78 F.  It was fine during the summer, but now it is considerably colder.  I hope you can help me with this, since information on these creatures is scarce.  Thanks, Lidia < Tropical amphibians need adequate heat to properly digest their food. The food is rotting in his gut and the bacteria are causing this gas/bloat problem. Heating up the tank to 82 F should get the digestive juices going and start to retard the bacteria in the stomach. In the future if you are going to keep him cool the stop feeding him when the weather starts to cool.-Chuck> A Caecilian by any other name Salutations Dr. Fenner! <Just Bob please> After visiting your website, I have found it to be extremely helpful and concluded that you're probably the only one that can help me! I stumbled upon it during my futile search for information on an unusual species (eel? snake? worm???) I bought on Saturday. I keep it together with a 12cm fire eel and 27 neon tetras. I bought it from a fish farm in Singapore and it was in a huge tank together with many ghost fishes and some fire eels. Let me describe it in detail: It looks like a worm/snake and is almost 30cm with a girth roughly the size of a man's middle finger. The body is like an earthworm's in that it is VERY smooth. Its skin creases when it moves (it moves like a snake!) a and actually forms folds. It reminds me of the kind of skin a newborn hamster or rat has. It is a dark grayish blue and has stripes on the lower half of its body (which is of a lighter color) when viewed from the side. The morning after I bought it, I noticed that it had shed a layer of its skin. The skin was snagged onto the wood in my tank and was billowing in the current caused by my filter pump. Then 2 days later it shed another layer but this time I did not remove the dead skin from the tank. When I looked closely at its body, I did not observe any breaks in its skin. It looked perfectly normal. It does not have any fins at all. Another feature of this funny creature is that its head and tail look very similar! When it is not moving, I get confused sometimes trying to differentiate where its head is! I assume that this is supposed to confuse predators? It looks as though it likes to burrow but my gravel is not fine enough and too heavy for it to hide under. It constantly tries to stick its nose into the gravel but is never successful. In relation to its body, its head seems pretty small and I doubt if a medium sized tetra would fit. I am mentioning this 'because I thought of feeding it small fish initially but that didn't work out. Its head is exactly like a snake's in respect to how the eyes and nose are placed. But the placement of the mouth is slightly different. Its mouth is below the head and looks pretty much like when you put your hand into a sock and pretend to make it 'talk' (I hope you understand my description). It also does not like the light at all. When I turned on the tank light initially it immediately reacted by trying to find a place to hide. But 2 days later it seemed more tolerant. It gets on fine with my fire eel and is totally oblivious to the tetras. It looks as though it has VERY poor eyesight (practically blind) and I can't say much for its sense of smell either! This is based on my experience trying to feed it some live blood worms yesterday. When I dropped the worms into one corner of the tank, it initially did not seem to be aware of them at all. Then it suddenly got pretty excited (this was the first time I fed it. 2 days after purchase) and soon it gobbled one worm up pretty violently. It also hustled my fire eel for the same worm. The thing I noticed is this. It did not seem as though it located the worms by sight or smell at all but rather by ...... chance! Its obvious that the fire eel and the tetras locate the worms by sight first before moving in for the kill. But it looks as though this creature is blind even though it has eyes. Firstly, the worms had to be on the gravel bed before it could eat them. After chomping on his very first worm, even though the worms were RIGHT in front of him, he still didn't seem to see them! And even if the worms touched his mouth or wriggled just beside his face, he was still excitedly pushing at the gravel with his nose looking as if he wanted to burrow??? <Likely so> Then its as if he suddenly realized (or maybe randomly) there was a worm nearby and he suddenly opened his mouth and violently chomped on it. Its quite comical actually! It also looks like it would rather eat worms that are partially rooted in the gravel (it'll rip the worms out VERY violently) compared to those that are wriggling freely. He also seems to have a slightly more successful chance on grabbing a worm when the lights are dimmed (could be my imagination though). I have thought of buying it some very fine sand but then some people have advised me not to. Someone said that since my fire eel is a freshwater species the introduction of sand would alter the PH of my water drastically. I am not sure if there exists fine marine sand or fine freshwater sand. Someone else also said that the fire eel's skin would be scratched or irritated if it burrowed into the fine sand. I really don't know who to believe. Any comments on whether I should get fine sand? <Mmm, I would do so... and probably move this animal (an amphibian) to a separate system> But I am quite sure that this snakelike creature I bought would be most happy if it could burrow and hide in fine sand. Something like desert snakes that burrow underneath sand and lie in wait of insects and such? The documentary I saw about this particular desert snake mentioned that its skin was very sensitive to vibrations and detected insects crawling on the surface in such a manner while it lay in wait underneath the sand. Could this creature be like that? <Yes> I am just speculating based on its physical appearance 'because I am really curious! But I can guarantee that it not a common loach, ropefish or Bichir. I submit my humble observations to you Dr Fenner and look forward to your favourable reply. Yours Faithfully, Leonard Emmanuel Tan <What you describe so well, behaviorally and structurally is almost w/o doubt a Caecilian (http://www.caecilian.org/) in the trade in the West most often called a "Rubber Eel". Please take a look through the Net re this group, its practical husbandry. Thank you for writing. Bob Fenner>

Rubber eel community tank 7/23/05 Hello.  I am soon to inherit a 55-gal freshwater live-plant tank that has been *very* well maintained.  The owner doesn't have time to maintain it and is giving it to me - replete with all the accoutrements.  I plan to keep the tank a live-plant tank, but I also wanted to have fish and form a community tank with the main participant being rubber eels. <Mmm, this amphibian is not that easy to keep...>   Because rubber eels are bottom-dwellers, I wanted another semi-active fish for the midsection of the tank, as well as a couple of good algae eaters (Siamese algae eaters?). <Mmm, no... too "mean"... would look elsewhere> Are rubber eels capable of living in a community environment? <Most folks keep them by themselves, but they can be kept with very docile fishes> If so, what sorts of fish would make a complimentary community? <Please read through the freshwater subweb on WWM re> If not, what advice can you provide regarding the support of rubber eels? <Mmm, try putting the terms: The Rubber Eel, Typhlonectes natans in your search tools. Bob Fenner> Any help/input you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Elisa "George" Berg

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