August 6, 2012

Wherein You Come to Regret The Euphemism “Trouser Snake”

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Atretochoana eiselti amphibian

Last November, a crew of engineers working on a hydroelectric dam on the Madeira River, a major tributary in the Amazon rainforest, discovered six creatures that looked alarmingly like… well, they looked a lot like dicks. Long, flaccid dicks. The news was kept under wraps while experts worked to confirm the trouser snake’s genus. Finally, it seems we have an answer.

Julian Tupan, biologist for Santo Antônio Energia, the company building the dam in Porto Velho, Rondônia, told Brazil’s daily the Estadao that the creature is not a snake but an amphibian.

“Despite looking like snakes, they aren’t reptiles and are more closely related to salamanders and frogs,” Tupan says in The Sun. “We think the animal breathes through its skin, and probably feeds on small fish and worms, but there is still nothing proven. The Amazon is a box of surprises when it comes to reptiles and amphibians. There are still much more to be discovered.”

Here’s what we know: the penis snake has been classified as Atretochoana eiselti. “A. eiselti is a caecilian, one of the oder of amphibians that resembles worms and snakes due to its lack of limbs,” writes Lauren Davis at io9. She continues:

It’s also the largest known tetrapod to possess no lungs [...] it’s still unclear just how the amphibian manages to intake sufficient oxygen to survive.

What’s especially interesting about A. eiselti (aside from its resemblance to human genitalia) is that, until last year, the species was known only from two preserved specimens. In fact, before A. eiselti was discovered in the warm, turbid waters of the Madeira River, it was theorized that they lived instead in the cold, oxygen-rich waters of an elevated region. So this discovery has offered biologists a unique opportunity to study the species. However, given that the species is likely rare, it’s a bit distressing that the species was discovered during the drainage of its habitat. In discussing the conservation of the Amazon, won’t somebody please think of the penis snakes?

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Image of the creature by Mongabay.

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