Heavy spring rains bring… dead caecilians!

Dead caecilian found on the sidewalk in Gamboa.

Dead caecilian found on the sidewalk in Gamboa.

Last week, after a rainy day, my advisor in Panama, Myra Hughey, found a dead caecilian on the sidewalk in Panama City. It was small with a light-colored head that had been pretty severely mangled, probably by a bird. As a recap from a previous post, caecilians are legless burrowing amphibians that spend almost all of their life underground, and as a result, not much is known about them. Only recently the amphibian chytrid fungus was found to be present on caecilians, but further studies are needed to determine whether it is causing any marked effect on caecilian populations. Since so little is known about caecilians, Myra froze the specimen that she found so that it can be donated to the herpetological collections at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

Later that day, I found my own dead caecilian on the sidewalk in Gamboa. After photographing it, I also froze it for the collections so that even in death it can further science. I am not sure what killed the caecilian that I found, but I suspect that either a predator like one of the cats living around Gamboa did it in, or someone stepped on it. In any case, the specimen was in pretty good condition (although it didn’t smell too great – things rot and decompose quickly in the rainforest). I hope to be able to find out which species of caecilian it is – my guess right now is Caecilia isthmus, but that nomenclature might be out of date and I don’t have a current key for Panama amphibians.

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