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Researchers Discover Amphibian Species that Peel and Eat their Mother's Skin

Mar 27, 2013 08:01 AM EDT

Researchers have discovered a kind of amphibian that eats its mother's skin. The animal belongs to an order called caecilian, which are amphibians that look like worms.

The new species of the skin eating amphibians is named Microcaecilia dermatophaga, according to The peeling of skin doesn't kill the mother as it is an extra layer of skin that the mothers have grown to feed the young ones.

Researchers say that the caecilians are close to 250 million years old.

"What we've found is another species that's a skin-feeder, but most importantly, it's another species that's quite distantly related to other skin-feeders we've found, meaning that skin-feeding is probably an ancestral characteristic for caecilians," said Dr Emma Sherratt from Harvard University, according to

The Caecilians can easily be misunderstood for being worms or snakes as they don't have any legs and a slippery body. However, they are amphibians like toads and frogs. Since, they mostly live underground in tropical rainforests, they are difficult to study.

These caecilians have ring like ridges on their body and long, sharp teeth and are pale pink to grey in color. They also have small or sometimes non-existent eyes. However, they can smell chemicals in the soil.

The newly described species has fewer ridges on its body and has more pink color than other related species. According to the researchers, the species is one among the few to peel their mothers' skin and eat it to survive.

The new-born has special set of teeth that help it to peel the skin of its mother. Later, the amphibian grows another set of sharp teeth to eat insects and worms.

"From an evolutionary perspective, finding another species that's a skin feeder gives us a better understanding of when this trait actually evolved, and perhaps whether it has evolved many times or whether it's a key characteristic for a lot of species, in which case caecilians may have developed this specialised maternal care very early on in their evolution," said Sherratt, who discovered the amphibians during her PhD when she was working at the Natural History Museum, London, reports

The study is published in the journal PLoS One.

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