Boulengerula niedeni
Sagalla caecilian
family: Herpelidae
Species Description: Muller H, Measey GJ, Loader SP, Malonza PK Zootaxa (1004): 37-50 2005

© 2006 John Measey (1 of 1)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Endangered (EN)
Other International Status None
National Status None
Regional Status None


View distribution map using BerkeleyMapper.



Boulengerula niedeni is a caecilian with a slightly dorsoventrally compressed sub- to cylindrical body. The total length of eight known adults is between 196 – 275 mm. In width, the body is mainly uniform, expect for the where the body narrows toward the head and vent. Dorsally they have a parabolic head that tapers from the first nucal groove toward the nares. There is a slight bulging near the tentacles. Laterally, the top of the head is almost straight and goes in slightly toward the tip of the lower jaw, where it dramatically goes inward toward the tip of the snout. Anterior to the nares, the snout tip is narrow and rounded. Laterally, the snout has a blunt round shape and comes to a point on the horizontal line that is halfway between the naris and the tentacle. The short, globular sensory tentacles are located ventrolaterally on head lying straight between jaw angle and nostril. They are in an almost perfect circular shape and are raised, creating an elevated rim around the tentacular opening. Ventrally, the tentacular apertures are easier to see than dorsally. Above the margin of the upper lip the rostrum slightly concaves. Ventrally, the tip of the lower jaw is rounder than the tip of the snout. Their nares, sitting at the anterior rim of an oval shallow depression, 0.26 mm in length, are small kidney shaped, and less than 0.1 mm in diameter. Laterally, the nares are in between the upper side, underside, and apex of the rostrum. The distance between the nares and apex is the smallest while the distance between the nares and underside is the longest. The choana have an oval shape with no visible choanal valves. Laterally, the rim of the choana is slightly raised and formed by the vomeropalatine shelf. However, the medial rim is not raised. The eyes are hidden and no dent or rise has been found in the area where eyes should be (Müller et al 2005).

The position of the mouth is subterminal, the teeth begin posterior of the snout. There are about 21 - 26 premaxillary-maxillary (PMM). They are wide and have an anterior arc across the middle extends posteriorly towards the jaw angle. Vomeropalatine teeth range from about 17 - 22 in number. The vomerine teeth have a short arc and are anteriorly wider than the premaxillary-maxillary teeth. The palatine teeth are divided from vomerine teeth via diastemata. The right side of the palatine series has eight teeth. There are no teeth on left side excluding the most posterior tooth. There are 17 - 21 dentary teeth that have a continuous arc that extends posteriorly towards jaw angle. There are 1 - 2 small splenial teeth. Lastly, there is one pair of anterior teeth, hidden in gums (Müller et al 2005).

The species has two nuchal collars that are slightly broader than the surrounding areas. Laterally, the second nuchal is around 2.2 mm while the first is 1.9 mm. The nuchal collars are distinguished by three nuchal grooves, the first of which is incomplete dorsally. While the second is compete and has a small forward pointing bend on the dorsal side. Ventrally, the third nuchal groove is interrupted and has a gap that is slightly shifted to the left side. The first and second nuchal groves are straight ventrally, however, the third groove’s open ends are bent slightly backwards. There is a faint short transverse groove on the dorsal side of the first nuchal collar. There is a clear narrow crease on the ventral side of the first nuchal collar. The second nuchal collar as a broader transverse groove. There are no lateral transverse grooves on either collar. Boulengerula niedeni has no true tail. There are 138 - 144 primary annuli present. Secondary and tertiary annuli are not present (Müller et al. 2005).

Two juvenile specimens had total length of 92 and 121 mm with head lengths of 3.4 to 3.6 mm. The juveniles measured 10 mm in circumference at the midbody, and at the vent, juvenile bodies are between 2.0 and 2.2 mm wide (Muller et al. 2005).

Boulengerula niedeni can be most easily identified from other Boulengerula species by its coloration, which is brown with a pinkish tint in life. It is also one of the larger species in the genus Boulengerula and, on average, has more vertebrae. Boulengerula niedeni differs morphologically from all other species in the genus (excluding B. taitanus) in that its annular grooves have whitish marks. Unlike B. taitanus, in B. niedeni the sphenethmoid is exposed, the average number of annuli and vertebrae is higher, the general coloration is brownish (B. taitanus is blueish-black), and the phallus has large ornamented tuberosities and no dorsolateral longitudinal ridges (Müller et al. 2005).

Juvenile B. niedeni are most similar to B. taitanus, whose young also have a thin dark dorsal stripe (Muller et al. 2005).

In life, B. niedeni adults dorsally brown with a pinkish tint. Ventrally, they are is pink to light brown and looks slightly translucent. There is a gradation between the dorsal and ventral colors on the lateral sides. The annuli have white marks that are fainter on the anterior side and more obvious in the posterior region. The head is pinkish, and contrasts faintly with the body (Müller et al. 2005).

In preservative, the dorsal coloration of adults fades to gray and ventral coloration fades to light gray. The flanks are more pale giving the appearance of wide ventrolateral stripes without distinct ventral borders (Müller et al. 2005).

Juveniles lack pigmentation along the ventral and lateral sides, but are dark brown along the dorsal side. From the top, the juveniles appear to be dark brown, but from the sides appear to be light brown (Wojnowski and Malonza 2009). They have a thin dark dorsal stripe. The pigmentation from this band radiates to the rest of the body as the young mature, so this may be how B. neideni young grow to be darker adults as well (Muller et al. 2005).

Adult specimens do not vary in coloration, however juveniles in preservative vary distinctly. Three juvenile specimens have no coloration on their ventral or lateral surfaces. Dorsally, they have a dark narrow band (Müller et al. 2005)

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Kenya


View distribution map using BerkeleyMapper.

Boulengerula neideni is endemic to Sagalla Hill in Southern Kenya, a remote mountain of the Taita Hills. The Taita Hills establish the northern range of the Eastern Arc Mountains (Lovett 1990), a biodiversity hotspot (Malonza et al. 2010). The Sagalla Hill is 1500 m in elevation (IUCN 2013). Boulengerula neideni is found at 1,000 - 1,504 m elevation. Boulengerula neideni occupies an estimated 7.06 km² of fragmented sites (Malonza 2016) and its range may be limited to less than 20 km² (Malonza et al. 2010) in two threatened locations, separated by a eucalyptus plantation (IUCN 2013).

Sagalla Hill is isolated from similar habitats by the dry Tsavo plains (Malonza et al. 2010). The sides of the hills are dry bushland habitat and higher up are fragments of montane forest (less than 2% of the original forest) (Malonza et al. 2010). Most of the Taita Hilltops are plantation forests that contain Pinus spp. and Eucalyptus spp. (Malonza et al. 2010).

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

Boulengerula niedeni is a rare, fossorial species. They prefer soft soil with high moisture and organic matter (Malonza 2016). Specimens used to describe the species were collected from shambas (small farms), where they were dug up from soil below banana plants and decaying organic matter (Muller et al. 2005). In agricultural areas, Boulengerula niedeni can be found under trees, along streams, or terrace bases. In the native forests, they can be found under or amongst the leaf litter, in decomposing logs, and under debris. Boulengerlua niedeni has some preferred microhabitats in stream valleys and bases of fig trees (Malonza 2016). Their densities are higher in shambas near streams (IUCN 2013)

One female specimen was found with five developing ovarian eggs with a diameter of 3.0 x 1.6 mm (Müller et al. 2005).

It is presumed that B. niedeni is direct developing by comparison to a related direct developing species, B. taitanus (Nussbaum and Hinkle 1994, Müller et al. 2005). Additionally, B. taitanus develops its dark coloration ontogenetically from an intensifying middorsal band over time (Nussbaum and Hinkel 1994). Juvenile B. neideni has a similar middorsal band to juvenile B. taitanus leading some to believe their development is similar (Müller et al. 2005).

Trends and Threats

The species is “Critically Endangered” and declining (IUCN 2013). Suitable habitat has been vanishing due to presence of Eucalyptus plantations. Boulengerula niedeni are not found in eucalyptus plantations on Sagalla Hill, although eucalyptus occurs on much of the hill (IUCN 2013). Eucalyptus trees cause erosion and drying of soil due to groundwater depletion. The original montane forest has been reduced to fragments because of disturbance and inhabitation (Malonza et al. 2010).

Its preferred habitat is small due to the increase of human density and habitat decline. Most of it is privately owned or valley floor farmlands. Boulengerula niedeni has some preferred microhabitats in stream valleys and bases of fig trees (Malonza 2016).

Sagalla Forest is a community forest managed by the government where eucalyptus trees are being replaced with indigenous plants (IUCN 2013).

Possible reasons for amphibian decline

General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Habitat fragmentation


The species authority is: Müller, H., Measey, G.J., Loader, S.P., Malonza, P.K. (2005). “A new species of Boulengerula Tornier (Amphibia: Gymnophiona: Caeciliidae) from an isolated mountain block of the Taita Hills, Kenya.” Zootaxa 1004: 37-50. Maximum likelihood analysis of 12S, 16S and cytb mitochondrial gene sequences from 32 samples from Kenya and Tanzania showed that B. taitanus, and B. niedeni a sister species. The clade formed by the two species is sister to a clade formed by B. changamwensis and B. uluguruensis, however B. uluguruensis may be split into more species. The analysis also revealed a positive correlation between genetic difference and geographic distance both among and between the clades described (Loader et al. 2011).

Boulengerula niedeni is named after German herpetologist Fritz Nieden from the Zoologisches Museum Berlin, who greatly contributed to African herptile taxonomy (Müller et al. 2005).

Taita Taveta Wildlife Forum and the Kenyan Forest Service have been replacing some eucalyptus with native trees in the hopes that the caecilian population will increase with the return of part of their natural habitat (IUCN 2013).


IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. (2013). ''Boulengerula niedeni''. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T61920A13322136. Downloaded around 7 June 2016.

Loader, S. P. (2011). ''Molecular phylogenetics of Boulengerula (Amphibia: Gymnophiona: Caeciliidae) and implications for taxonomy, biogeography and conservation.'' The Herpetological Journal, 21(1), 5-16.

Lovett, J. C. (1998). ''Importance of the Eastern Arc Mountains for vascular plants.'' Journal of East African Natural History, 87.1, 59-74.

Malonza, P. K., Lötters, S., Measey, G.J. (2010). ''The Montane Forest associated amphibian species of the Taita Hills, Kenya.'' Journal of East African Natural History , 99.1, 47-63.

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.

Wojnowski, D., Malonza, P.K. (2009). ''Kilima-Mrota is not a worm: the effect of conservation education and a local naming contest on the perspectives held by the peoples of Sagalla Hill, Kenya toward the Sagalla Caecilian Boulengerula niedeni.'' Journal of East African Natural History, 98(2), 241-248.

Written by Kate Morrison, Nydia Mora, and Jade Petaishiski (katelinmorrison AT, nbmora AT , jbpetaishiski AT, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis
First submitted 2018-10-11
Edited by Maxine Weber and Ann T. Chang (2018-10-31)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2018 Boulengerula niedeni: Sagalla caecilian <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Nov 12, 2018.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2018. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 12 Nov 2018.

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