‘Penis snake’ discovered in Brazil is actually a rare species of amphibian by Rhett A. Butler on August 1, 2012 One creature discovered by engineers building a dam in the Amazon is a type of caecilian, a limbless amphibian that resembles an earthworm or, as some point out, part of the male anatomy.
The animal was discovered while draining a part of the Madeira River, a major tributary of the Amazon, for a controversial hydroelectric project. Six individuals were found according to biologist Julián Tupan, who identified the species as Atretochoana eiselti.
Little else is known about the species, although it is believed to be aquatic and lack lungs, so it breathes through its skin. Other individuals have been found near the mouth of the Amazon, more than 2,500 kilometers away. Caecilians are typically predators, feeding on small fish, worms, and other aquatic invertebrates. They have poor eyesight and orient themselves mainly through smell.
Atretochoana eiselti is the largest known caecilian, reaching a length of 81 cm (32 in), or more than twice the size of the next largest known species. Atretochoana eiselti, also known as the “penis snake.” Photo by Matt Roper
The status of the Atretochoana eiselti population is unknown, but the area where it was most recently discovered will soon be affected by the Santo Antonio dam near Porto Velho in Rondonia.
Environmentalists have criticized the project, saying it will flood the rainforest and require the declassification of a section of the national park. Brazil is currently in the midst of a dam-building spree in the Amazon, with 30 dams available by 2020. Environmentalists warn that dam-building activity could affect fish migration and nutrient flows through the basin. of the Amazon (special series: Amazonian Dams.
Habitat and distribution: The “penis snake” has been found in Brazil near the mouth of the Amazon and in the Madeira River (the largest tributary of the Amazon River). Both are considered “white water” rivers, with limited visibility due to high sediment loads. It is currently unknown in which other rivers the “penis snake” lives and if it is found upstream in Peru or Bolivia.
Feeding habits: Like other caecilians, the “penis snake” probably feeds on small fish, worms, and other aquatic invertebrates. But more research is needed First discovered: Atretochoana eiselti was first described in a 1968 article published in The Caecilians of the World. Its “rediscovery” was published in 1998.
Related species: Atretochoana eiselti is the only species in the genus Atretochoana, but another caecilian, Caecilita iwokramae, is also known to lack lungs. There are about 200 species of caecilians known worldwide, including a superficially similar one discovered in French Guiana in 2013.
Origin of the name: Mongabay.com coined the name “penis snake” in the previous post on August 1, 2012. Since then, other media outlets have come up with some creative nicknames, including “manaconda” and “flexible snake.”