IUCN threat status:

Least Concern (LC)


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Amphisbaena alba

Amphisbaena alba, also known as the red worm lizard[1] or less commonly as the white or white-bellied worm lizard, is a species of amphisbaenian in the reptilian order Squamata. Despite the large geographic range that this species covers, little is known about its ecology due to its secretive habits.[2] A. alba has a diverse diet ranging from plant material to small vertebrates.[2] Numerically, beetles, ants, and spiders compose the majority of their diet; however, ants, insect larvae, and beetles are ingested to satisfy a larger volume.[2]

Geographic range[edit]

It occurs in South America from eastern Venezuela and Trinidad through the entire Amazon Basin to northern Argentina.[1] A. alba has the largest geographic range of all the amphisbaenians.[2]


Reproduction for this species occurs in the dry season of its geographical area.[2] Some evidence suggests that this species exploits the living space of the leaf-cutting ant and may even use the nests of these ants to deposit its eggs.[2] A. alba lays the greatest number of eggs at a time (8–16) in comparison to other amphisbaenians, which is possibly due to its large body size.[2] There is no sexual dimorphism in regard to snout-vent length, meristic, or morphometric characters for A. alba most likely due to functional constraints related to their burrowing nature.[2]

The ultrastructure of epididymal spermatozoa has been studied for A. alba.[3] Mature spermatozoa are filiform and are characterized by features such as a depression in the transverse section of the acrosome, a moderately long midpiece, columnar mitochondria, an elongated nucleus, and a fibrous sheath in the midpiece.[3]

Epidermal glands are located in the cloacal region of A. alba and are most likely used for reproduction and marking territory.[4] The openings of the glands are plugged with a solid, holocrine secretion that is removed when it moves through tunnels and leaves a secretion trail.[4]

Erythrocyte characteristics[edit]

The stages of ultrastructural changes of organelles in developing erythroid cells are similar to the developmental changes in other vertebrate groups.[5] The greatest difference is the periodical transverse alignment of hemoglobin molecules in the organelle matrix of the hemosomes.[5] The transformation of the erythroid cell organelles for hemoglobin biosynthesis occurs slowly.[6] This is due to the low metabolic rate of A. alba which is a result of the hypoxic environment where it lives.[6]

Defensive tactics[edit]

When A. alba assumes a defensive posture it bends its body into the shape of a horseshoe and raises both the head and the tail.[7] The tail is made of tough collagen bundles that allows the tail to absorb mechanical pressure from a bite.[7] The body of A. alba is also covered with a flexible armor which makes other areas resistant to bites as well.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c T. Mott (2010). "Amphisbaena alba". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved December 3, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Guarino R. Colli & Dario S. Zamboni (1999). "Ecology of the worm-lizard Amphisbaena alba in the Cerrado of central Brazil". Copeia 1999 (3): 733–742. JSTOR 1447606. 
  3. ^ a b Ruscaia D. Teixeira, Guarino R. Colli & Sônia N. Báo (1999). "The ultrastructure of the spermatozoa of the worm lizard Amphisbaena alba (Squamata, Amphisbaenidae) and the phylogenetic relationships of amphisbaenians". Canadian Journal of Zoology 77 (8): 1254–1264. doi:10.1139/z99-089. 
  4. ^ a b C. Jared, M. M. Antoniazzi, J. R. M. C. Silva & E. Freymüller (1999). "Epidermal glands in Squamata: microscopical examination of precloacal glands in Amphisbaena alba (Amphisbaenia, Amphisbaenidae)". Journal of Morphology 241 (3): 197–206. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4687(199909)241:3<197::AID-JMOR2>3.0.CO;2-5. PMID 10461130. 
  5. ^ a b C. Jared, M. M. Antoniazzi, I. S. Sano-Martins & A. Brunner Jr. (1995). "Ultrastructural cytology of maturing erythroid cells in a fossorial reptile (Amphisbaena alba) with reference to hemoglobin biosynthesis". Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Physiology 112 (3–4): 487–494. doi:10.1016/0300-9629(95)02017-9. 
  6. ^ a b D. D. Spadacci-Morena, C. Jared, M. M. Antoniazzi, O. Brunner, P. Morena & A. Brunner Jr (1998). "Comparative cytomorphology of maturing amphisbaenian (Amphisbaena alba) and snake (Waglerophis merremii) erythroid cells with regard to haemoglobin biosynthesis". Comparative Haematology International 8 (1): 7–15. doi:10.1007/BF02628098. 
  7. ^ a b c Carlos Jared, Marta Marta Antoniazzi, Edna Freymüller & Luiz Carlos Uchôa Junquerira (1998). "A possible advantage of displaying the tail: a comparison between the tail and body integument structure in Amphisbaena alba and Leposternon microcephalum (Squamata, Amphisbaenia)". Annales des Sciences Naturelles – Zoologie et Biologie Animale 19 (2): 89–97. doi:10.1016/S0003-4339(98)80003-8. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Boulenger, G.A. 1885. Catalogue of the Lizards in the British Museum (Natural History). Second Edition. Volume II...Amphisbænidæ. London: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History). (Taylor and Francis, printers.) xiii + 497 pp. + Plates I.- XXIV. (Amphisbæna alba, pp. 438-439.)
  • Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum clases, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, diferentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio Decima, Reformata. Stockholm: L. Salvius. 824 pp. (Amphisbæna alba, p. 229.)


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