Florida Has Another Invasive Species And It Looks Like A Giant Worm

Many non-native creatures can be found living in Florida, including some scary ones like giant pythons. The latest addition to the list is a strange amphibian that resembles a huge worm, one that is found native in places like southeast Asia and central Africa. (It looks somewhat similar to the eel pictured above, if you subtract the fins and imagine it a bit thinner, grayer and more wrinkly.) The discovery was made following the capture of a strange critter in southern Florida, prompting an inquiry with scientists.

This particular variety of amphibian is known as a caecilian; it is long like a large snake, but gray in color, wrinkly, lacking a distant head and tail. The first known specimen captured in Florida was discovered by the state's Fish and Wildlife biologists in the Tamiami Canal. This marks the first known case of a caecilian found in the US.

Florida Museum manager Coleman Sheehy heard about the bizarre-looking creature after Florida wildlife officials sent him an image of it in 2019. The caecilian died after being captured; its remains were then sent to the Florida Museum for study.

DNA testing was conducted, revealing that the worm-like animal was a Rio Cauca caecilian (Typhlonectes natans), which is native to Venezuela and Colombia. These animals are scavengers that eat small animals, according to the experts, who aren't yet sure whether the non-native species have become established in the canal.

Other caecilians have been discovered in the canal since this initial report, the museum says, but it's still too early to tell what kind of impact they may have on the region's ecosystem. Fortunately, the researchers say these creatures — bizarre as they may look — aren't dangerous and they don't seem to be "serious predators," instead simply feeding on smaller critters before they, too, become a meal for something larger.