Acquired: Online breeder / seller,
Breed species myself,
Fish / pet store
Pennsylvania, United States
Posted Jul 28, 2013
Rubber worms, rubber eels, even the ridiculously misspelled "Sicilian worms" (they're not worms, they're not from Sicily!) are all poor pet-shop names for the aquatic flat-tailed caecilians. Caecilians are an ancient order of legless amphibians confined to the tropics of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Most caecilians are terrestrial, burrowing animals found in leaf litter on rainforest floors. Two aquatic species, Typhlonectes natans and T. compressicauda, are the only caecilians that have made their way into the pet trade in any significant number (most of my experience is with T. compressicauda).
Females can grow up to two feet in length, so this is a species of amphibian that needs room. They don't always tolerate others of their kind and they do very poorly when crowded. They are incompatible with most fish and freshwater invertebrates because they will either eat them, or have their soft skin harmed by them.
An ideal setup for one or a small group would be a 55-gallon aquarium half-filled with water. An external trickle filter is ideal. Substrate should be fine, smooth creek sand or all-purpose sand, not aquarium gravel -- this can injure their skin. Use smooth slate slabs and smooth hollow driftwood as hiding places, along with good amounts of floating or trailing aquatic vegetation such as Anacharis and floating hearts (banana plant). You can also fasten Java and African water ferns onto the driftwood, and allow Java moss to grow on the driftwood as well.
Keep the water clean and chemical-free -- change frequently with dechlorinated water, 25% weekly at least. The temperature should be 78-82 F, but use a submersible heater in the trickle filter, as their strong bodies and active night movements could potentially crack a heater. The driftwood may stain the water, this is OK. They do require a tight-fitting lid and the plants will need ample light.
The reason for only half-filling the tank is to prevent escape, to keep them in shallower water (which they prefer because they can take surface breaths from their hiding places rather than having to swim out to breathe), and also to be able to offer them land. I put in a large terra-cotta flowerpot filled with peat moss so that its lip was just above the water level, and planted this well with moss and trailing plants. The driftwood also poked out of the water (hint: hang a fern leaf with ripe spores in the tank, and you'll eventually get small ferns growing on the driftwood!). They occasionally hauled out onto the land and hunted crickets there.
My caecilians thrived on a diet of earthworms, ghost shrimp, crickets, mealworms, and feeder guppies. They most preferred earthworms and would come out from hiding when an earthworm was dropped into the water. They also enjoy bloodworms but feeding a caecilian with bloodworms and meeting their dietary demand can get expensive! Anyway feed a variety of live foods for best nutrition.
My caecilians bred for me and for a friend who kept them. Females give live birth to 3 inch larvae that look just like the adults but have small external gills and are very active.
Don't handle caecilians -- use a soft net to catch and move them. They're so slippery that enough grip to hold them would be damaging to them. Also, the mocous layer on the skin can easily be rubbed off by our skin, leaving them susceptible to infection.
They have been subjected to export bans and moratoria from various countries due to over-collection for the pet trade.