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"rubber eel"?

trincan

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The shop has baby caecilians right now, and it poked my curiosity. They are swimming around non-stop with angel fish and other tropicals. I stood there watching them for a while, they were really neat. Is that their preffered domain? I have no clue. They are abut 30cm long, 1/2 inch around. I had thought they burrowed...the dealer called them "rubber eels". How are they supposed to kept? Are they totally aquatic? Or do they need soil? How do they live? What do they eat? I have heard somewhere, I think i read it on caudata that they bite. Anyone with more info, please post. Interesting ugly little things.
 

Ed

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Rubber eels are another name for Typhlonectes natans. These aquatic caecilians are relatively easy to keep as long as the temperatures are between 80 and 82 F, nitrates are kept low and the water is relatively soft (adults tolerate harder water than juveniles in my experience).
The size you are reporting are young adults. New born babies range between 3 and about 6 inches in length and about as thick to about 1.5 times thicker than a number 2 pencil.

They will burrow if suitable substrate is supplied but do not need it as they can readily shelter inside some suitable pieces of pvc pipe. They are escape artists and need to tank with a locking lid and some way to prevent them from using the filter to escape. They do well on a diet of earthworms.

There is some controvery over whether or not these are legal to import/own in the USA as historically there have been confiscations by USF&W.



Ed
 

Drew

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Caecilians sold as "rubber eels" are usually one of two species: T. natans or T. compressicauda. Both are fairly easy to keep in an aquatic set-up, and are generally happiest when they have a lot of hiding areas such as PVC pipe, and some type of platform to haul out onto on occasion. Most of them also enjoy floating plants that allow them to rest near the surface.

As Ed mentions, they're accomplished escape artists, and you want to prevent even the smallest opening, or any way for them to get leverage to be able to push against the tank lid. You also want to avoid filters that have intake attachments (such as the screen "baskets" that come with many off-the-back box filter intakes), as the animals are adept at removing these and getting their heads stuck inside either the attachment or the open intake.

I prefer to minimize tank decor and substrate, since rubber eels can be quite messy (but fun to watch) eaters. They have a habit of grabbing food items and going into a kind of "death roll", which often results in the item being torn up, leaving little bits that are a pain to clean up if you have highly decorated aquaria. They also love to burrow when they can, so tend to uproot plants and generally wreak havoc on decorative set-ups.

Rubber eels are easy to feed, and will devour a variety of worms, shrimp, and sinking pellet food. They're usually too slow to catch fish though, but if you house them with fish, avoid those with spines like corys, since caecilians will eat dead ones and get them lodged in their throat. They can bite, but it's more surprising than painful, and usually a result of animals that have been conditioned to be hand-fed.

Also, be warned that WC rubber eels were made illegal to import and own in Ontario (and possibly the rest of Canada) some time ago, so make absolutely certain that your supplier is dealing in CB animals. Even then, imported CB specimens are often confiscated, though there is a Canadian initiative to maintain captive domestic propagation.
 

Ed

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Hi Drew,

I have yet to see T. compressicauda imported into the pet trade (and when I spoke to Dr. M. Wilkinson several years ago that all of the purported T. compressicauda he located in the pet trade were T. natans.).

Ed
 

Drew

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Hi Ed,

T. compressicauda is indeed a rarity in the trade these days, but prior to the legal issues up here it wasn't unheard of to find one or two mixed in with larger batches of T. natans. Of course, most dealers had no idea of the difference and sold everything as "rubber eels" anyway. Even a large number of casual hobbyists would be hard-pressed to tell them apart without knowledge of specific caecilian anatomy.

I did end up with three T. compressicauda in my old collection, verified by a late acquaintance of mine who was the co-head of the Herpetology Section of the National Museum, but this was more than a decade ago now.

However, I do agree that these days it's unlikely someone would run across a compressicauda... though it's still possible :)

Cheers!
 
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Ed

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Hi Drew,

I did look at a lot of cloacal morphology when I saw them in pet stores but getting them to hold still to count the radia was a pain until I started tubing them to restrain them.

I just had 6 baby T. natans born at work.

Ed
 

nate

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I know that T. compressicauda has come in a few times the past two years with Potomotyphlus from Peru. They all died rapidly of fungal-related skin problems though and I was unable to secure any. The guy no longer even bother to try to import them now because they always die within a few days of arrival. A zoo in NJ managed to get some from the same dealer, but they also died of the fungual problem within a week or so.

I don't think there's any controversy that T. natans is illegal to import from Columbia and Venezuela or that wildlife dealers/importers have had shipments from those countries confiscated in the past, but no private pet owner has ever had their caecilians confiscated.

When they tame down and get used to your hands being in the water, etc. they will in fact bite...or nibble really. It's painless, I assure you. They have very little appreciable jaw power.
 

Ed

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Nate,

With the fungal infections were they saprolegnia? If so did anyone try keeping the caecilians at about 84-85 F as this is below what should be a thermal stress level for the caecilians while high enough to inhibit the saprolegnia infections.

Some of the early T. natans we got had fungal issues but on microscopic examination the fungal infections were secondary to a nematode infection that was causing lesions. We were able to resolve this problem via levamisol baths (and discovered that T. natans can have varying sensitivity to levamisol based on prior exposure).

Ed
 

Drew

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Nate,

While confiscation of privately owned T. natans is rare here, I'm aware of at least four instances of it happening over the last 5 years in the national capital region of eastern Ontario, so keepers in this area should still be aware of the possibility. In each case it was a result of inspection by local Animal Control authorities, since registration and inspection of some herp collections is required by certain municipal by-laws around here.

And grats Ed on the newborns!

Cheers!
 

nate

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Ed: I'm not sure what medications were tried and the exact nature of the fungal infections. I never saw the photos of the infection. The importer simply said they "rotted away" while the vet from the zoo simply said they had "some sort of skin fungus". I can give you more info for the vet via email.

In any event, the importer said they usually came in looking that way, and even though he kept them at 76-82 or so like his Potomotyphlus, they still got the infection and died. I suspect it was something a bit more complicated than Saprolegnia, especially in light of Potomotyphlus coming in the same shipments and being just fine.

Drew: Wow, I had no idea that was happening in Canada. Do you know why, exactly?
 

Ed

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Hi Nate,

Interesting. It makes me wonder about how they were handled preshipment (or how they were shipped). The Potomotyphlops maybe a little more resistant to the shipping method.

That is also interesting about Canada Drew. There was for awhile a guy importing them into Canada and then driving them over the border and shipping them out of New York for a few years before that stopped (I don't know why it stopped).

Ed
 

Drew

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Nate,

Most of the confiscations that I'm aware of were sadly due to the T. natans being mere bystanders in a larger collection.

In several municipalities in this region, the Animal Control by-laws can change every few years, sometimes becoming stricter, sometimes more lax with regard to herps. The issue that was occuring was that there was usually a clause allowing people to register animals that were set to become prohibited under revised by-laws, thereby grandfathering them in, however this led to hobbyists calling in and "registering" a large number of animals they didn't actually own (usually large boids and other snakes), but planned to obtain in the future.

So, Animal Control began inspecting larger herp collections to verify the registrations, and this is how they became aware of the T. natans in 3 of the 4 cases I know of. Since the by-laws also normally contain a clause that supports larger international and country-of-origin laws, the officers would happen upon the caecilians (which were never themselves subject to municipal registration, but fall under Columbian and other export law), recognize them, and confiscate them.

The fourth case was a hobbyist who had bred T. natans and attempted to sell the offspring, and was investigated for lack of a residential farming permit (which some municipalities require as a tax formality for hobbyists who derive profit from breeding their animals). Since the export laws cover descendants of illegally exported animals and the breeder could not prove origin of the parents from outside of the prohibited countries, all of the T. natans were removed.

However, in every case, the animals were relocated to zoological facilities for research and educational purposes, so at least they still ended up well cared-for.

Nowadays it's exceedingly rare to find T. natans in this region, since while every pet outlet occasionally has access to them, all reputable dealers around here refuse to stock them due to potential thorny issues with local by-law.

As an aside, my knowledge is primarily with the greater national capital region, so I'm unaware if these same issues arise elsewhere in Canada.

Cheers!
 

trincan

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thank you drew, ed and nate for all the information. I didn't realize they could be kept at a warmer temperature, since they were with tropicals.
One last question, so they do breathe air from the surface of the water?
 

Ed

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Yes they do.

In my experience you actually want to keep them around 80-82 F as I had issues with fungal infections at lower temperatures.

Ed
 

nate

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I've had good luck keeping and breeding them a bit lower than Ed recommends, 74-78F. I've also had fungal problems when the animals accidentally dropped into the high 60s due to heater failure, but all recovered well. I keep them with black neon tetras and flame tetras with no problems.
 

Ed

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I have kept them with lemon tetras without any problems (and the same tetras lasted for more than 4 years..)

Ed
 

ajc

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Mine are routinely kept in the mid 70s with no problems. I have neon tetras breeding in the same tank as the T. natans. I need to find a suitable small companion fish to eat hair algae!
 
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