Invasion of penis snakes as shy 2ft-long reptiles discovered in canal
A 'snake' named after the human penis has had scientists locked in research since a surprise discovery.
Researchers were stunned to find the unusual two-foot-long eel-like creature in an American canal nearly two years ago on November 7, 2019.
It led to fears the country was being invaded by the non-native 'penis snake' which were first known to exist in the Brazilian rainforest, 200 years ago.
DNA analysis from the unexpected find in Miami’s Tamiami Canal, Florida, has now confirmed the species was a caecilian which bears a striking resemblance to pretty large genitalia.
Return visits by members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission have found more of the amphibian species in the canal, sparking fears of it invading waters further afield.
New research published in Reptiles & Amphibians says: “To our knowledge, this represents the first record of a caecilian in Florida or anywhere else in the United States.
Gizmodo reports that the creature was captured by the FWC who were conducting a routine survey of the shallow waters near Miami International Airport.
Sadly attempts to feed the animal failed, leading to its death in captivity. Its body was then sent to the Florida Museum of Natural History for further analysis, where geneticists identified the species as Typhlonectes natans.
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The DNA analysis helped to distinguish this specimen from another similar-looking species native to Columbia and Venezuela.
Since the unsightly creature was netted, FWC members have received several more specimens and had reports of sightings in the same canal, also known as the C-4 Canal.
Caecilians are reportedly not fussy when it comes to food and will scavenge on small animals in slow-moving bodies of warm and shallow water with aquatic vegetation.
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Coleman Sheehy, manager of the Florida Museum’s herpetology collection and the first author of the new study, explained in a statement: "Parts of the C-4 Canal are just like that. This may be an environment where this species can thrive.
"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.
"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.”
It is suspected the penis snakes ended up in Florida's water by someone dumping unwanted pets.
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The next challenge for the scientists is to work out how many caecilians are now living in the canal, how far they’ve spread, and whether this species has established itself in the canal.
"I didn’t think we’d one day find a caecilian in Florida. So, this was a huge surprise."
Caecilians are shy and have very poor eyesight, though a specialised sense organ located between their eyes and nostrils helps them locate food, Gizmodo reports.
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