Boulengerula taitana
family: Herpelidae

© 2006 John Measey (1 of 1)

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Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Least Concern (LC)
See IUCN account.
Other International Status None
National Status None
Regional Status None


Males reach up to 348 mm, while females reach up to 333 mm (Malonza and Measey 2005). Animals from forest habitat were significantly larger than those from agricultural areas (Measey 2004). Adult bodies have a blue hue with contrasting annulation (Wollenberg and Measey 2009); newly hatched juveniles are unpigmented (Kupfer et al. 2008).

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Kenya

View distribution map using BerkeleyMapper.
Endemic to the Taita Hills in Kenya, B. taitana is the only caecilian species known from this area (Measey 2004). It occurs between 1,430 and 1,910 m asl, and may occur down to 1,000 m and lower (Loader and Measey 2004). In shambas (small private agricultural plots, generally with a mixture of crops such as bananas, avocados, guavas, sugar cane, yams, maize, and mangos), these caecilians were found in soil around the bases of plants and trees, particularly where there was a high amount of leaf litter (Measey 2004; Malonza and Measey 2005). The soil was typically a clay loam (Kupfer et al. 2008). In evergreen moist forest, with undisturbed soil, B. taitana was much less common, but was found under rotting logs and in deep leaf litter (Measey 2004). Rainfall in the Taita Hills is monsoonal, with a long rainy period from March to May, and a short rainy period from October to December (Malonza and Measey 2005).

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Boulengerula taitana is a subterranean burrower (Malonza and Measey 2005). This species can be found throughout the year, but is more commonly found during rainy periods when it migrates upward to shallower soil (Malonza and Measey 2005). Boulengerula taitana has been reported to be most common in the upper layer (the first few centimeters) of loose soil under rotted logs and at the base of large rocks (Measey 2004), though it also occurs in deeper soil and in terraced areas of shambas (Malonza and Measey 2005). Generally B. taitana must be dug out from the soil but one individual was found inside a rotting log and occasionally individuals have been found simply by rolling logs (Measey 2004). More than one individual may be found under the same log, but apparently unassociated, with distances of up to several meters between them (Measey 2004).

B. taitana is oviparous and undergoes direct development (Nussbaum and Hinkel 1994). Mating occurs at the start of the short rainy season (which runs from October to December), and takes place in the soil (Malonza and Measey 2005). Females construct a subterranean ellipsoid chamber (average size 4 cm x 3.6 cm x 3.3 cm) in which to lay eggs, at a depth of 4-70 cm (Kupfer et al. 2008). Nest sites are frequently in close proximity, with 70-85% of attending females found in high-density nesting sites (inhabited by 1-12 other attending adults) (Kupfer et al. 2008). Males and non-attending females were also found in high-density nesting sites but at a much lower proportion (12% and 22% of adults respectively). Interestingly, this species appears to provide alloparental care, with AFLP analysis indicating that a small proportion of juveniles in litters were not the offspring of the attending female (Kupfer et al. 2008). In addition, one litter (of six examined) showed evidence of multiple paternity (Kupfer et al. 2008).

Clutches range from two to nine eggs (Kupfer et al. 2006) with a mean clutch size of five eggs, the smallest mean clutch size so far recorded for a caecilian (Malonza and Measey 2005). Eggs and juveniles are attended by the female parent (Malonza and Measey 2005). Hatchling B. taitana are altricial, unpigmented and have poor mobility at first, with weakly developed musculature and external annulation, and poorly ossified bones (Kupfer et al. 2006; Kupfer et al. 2008). Juveniles mature into subadults after one year, while subadults become adults after the second year of life (Malonza and Measey 2005).

B. taitana is the first oviparous caecilian species reported to feed its young, as viviparous caecilian species do (Kupfer et al. 2006). Brooding B. taitana females have modified skin, with a greatly thickened, lipid-rich epidermis (Kupfer et al. 2006). Like viviparous caecilians, young B. taitana have specialized, deciduous dentition, but rather than feeding on maternal skin secretions, juvenile B. taitana consume the outer layer of maternal skin directly (dermatotrophy) (Kupfer et al. 2006). Once the young caecilians mature and dentitional metamorphosis is complete, B. taitana feed on termites, earthworms, ants, and other soil macrofauna (Kupfer et al. 2008).

Although female B. taitana lay eggs seasonally, males show continuous spermatogenic activity. This suggests that mating can occur throughout the year, with females either potentially storing sperm or able to suppress embryo development (Measey et al. 2008).

Trends and Threats
It has been estimated that 98% of the forest is gone in the Taita Hills, mostly replaced by small-scale, low-intensity agriculture (Newmark 1998). However, B. taitana appears to be abundant in agricultural areas there (Measey 2004).

The name "ming'ori" means "earthworm" in the Kitaita language, which may reflect a local misconception that caecilians are earthworms (Measey 2004).


Kupfer, A., Müller, H., Antoniazzi, M. M., Jared, C., Greven, H., Nussbaum, R. A., and Wilkinson, M. (2006). ''Parental investment by skin feeding in a caecilian amphibian.'' Nature, 440, 926-929.

Kupfer, A., Wilkinson, M., Gower, D. J., Müller, H., and Jehle, R. (2008). ''Care and parentage in a skin-feeding caecilian amphibian.'' Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology, 309A, 460-467.

Loader, S., and Measey, J. (2004). Boulengerula taitana. In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1. Downloaded on 13 July 2009.

Malonza, P. K., and Measey, G. J. (2005). ''Life history of an African caecilian: Boulengerula taitanus Loveridge 1935 (Amphibia Gymnophiona Caeciilidae).'' Tropical Zoology, 18, 49-66.

Measey, G. J. (2004). ''Are caecilians rare? An East African perspective.'' Journal of East African Natural History, 93, 1-21.

Measey, G. J., Smita, M., Beyo, R. S., and Oommen, O. V. (2008). ''Year-round spermatogenic activity in an oviparous subterranean caecilian, Boulengerula taitanus Loveridge 1935 (Amphibia Gymnophiona Caeciliidae).'' Tropical Zoology, 21, 109-122.

Newmark, W. (1998). ''Forest area, fragmentation and loss in the Eastern Arc Mountains: implications for the conservation of biological diversity.'' Journal of East African Natural History, 87, 29-36.

Nussbaum, R.A. and Hinkel, H. (1994). ''Revision of East African caecilians of the genera Afrocaecilia Taylor and Boulengerula Tornier (Amphibia: Gymnophiona: Caeciliaide).'' Copeia, 1994(3), 750-760.

Wollenberg, K. C., and Measey, G. J. (2009). ''Why colour in subterranean vertebrates? Exploring the evolution of colour patterns in caecilian amphibians.'' Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 22, 1046-1056.

Written by Kellie Whittaker (kwhittaker AT, UC Berkeley
First submitted 2009-05-17
Edited by Kellie Whittaker (2009-07-13)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2009 Boulengerula taitana: ming'ori <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Jan 17, 2017.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2017. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 17 Jan 2017.

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