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'Penis Snakes' From South America Have Been Discovered In Florida

Simon Catling

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'Penis Snakes' From South America Have Been Discovered In Florida

So-called 'penis snakes' have started appearing in southern Florida, putting the willies right up the local residents.

As the climate continues to change, it's becoming commonplace for regions of the world to suddenly find themselves home to various strange species previously unknown to the territory.

In the south of Florida - itself one of the southern US states - this has meant an influx of plants and animals from central and south American, the most shocking and horribly-named being the penis snake.

Formally known as a caecilian - biologists are smart enough to give the species a proper name - the creatures are native to Colombia and Venezuela in South America, but more recently have also been seen in the Tamiami Canal near Miami International Airport.

Credit: Florida Museum
Credit: Florida Museum

Caecilians can range in size from a few inches to five feet long and have extremely poor eyesight, which explains why their name translates to 'blind ones' in Latin.

Instead, the 'penis snake' - so called for obvious reasons, if you look at the pictures - has a pair of sensory tentacles between its eyes and nostril that allows it to detect food, which it eats with dozens of needle-like teeth.

The first one found in Florida was discovered two years ago, according to staff at the Florida Museum, and was two feet long - although it has since died.

Despite their unfortunate colloquialism, the creatures aren't actually snakes.

As amphibians, they're in fact more closely related to frogs, toads, salamanders and newts.

They live on both land and freshwater, and typically consume worms and termites - but they have been known to snatch small snakes, frogs and lizards.

Credit: Florida Museum
Credit: Florida Museum

Coleman Sheehy, Florida Museum's herpetology collection manager, said in a statement: "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."

Sheehy added: "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."

Although nothing has been confirmed about why the amphibians have found themselves in Florida, it's permitted for caecillians to be bought as pets, with the Typhlonectes natans breed the most popular.

It's suspected that someone might have just discarded an unwanted pair in the canal.

Credit: Florida Museum
Credit: Florida Museum

"In Colombia, where the species is native, Typhlonectes natans inhabits warm, slow-flowing waterways with abundant aquatic vegetation," reads a study published in Reptiles & Amphibians.

"Parts of the C-4 canal appear to resemble their native habitat and may provide an environment where this species could thrive were it to become established."

Featured Image Credit: Florida Museum

Topics: Florida, US News, Snakes, Weird

Simon Catling
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