Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Species of the week: Cobra Bobo

Schistometopum thomense, the São Tomé Caecilian, is most commonly known by its local name ‘Cobra Bobo’, but this is a misnomer. Despite its snake-like appearance it is more closely related to the frog in your pond than to the cobra. 

As its English name suggests, it is a caecilian, an order of amphibians which resemble worms or snakes. The Cobra Bobo is approximately 30cm long, but the largest caecilians can reach 1.5m! 

Caecilians evolved millions of years before snakes did, so they filled an ecological niche for a legless creature that could slither along the ground and squeeze into tight spaces. 

Many people are surprised when they first pick up a snake becuase they don’t feel wet and slimy, but more like a smooth leather belt. The Cobra Bobo, however, has the same slippery feel as a frog. 

The slimy coating keeps the skin moist when it is out of water. Caecilians do have lungs but also absorb oxygen through their skin, and the absorption process is more efficient when the skin is moist. Some amphibians exude poisons and toxins in the secretions that coat their skin. 

Cobra Bobos can be found buried in the soil or living under decaying logs. Like all caecilians, they are highly adapted for a burrowing lifestyle, with a slender shape and strong muscles and skulls to force their way into the ground. Because of its burrowing lifestyle, the Cobra Bobo’s eyes are black pinpricks, and their vision is limited to dark-light perception.


It is viviparous, meaning that instead of laying eggs it gives birth to fully developed miniature Cobra Bobos.

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