Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Yummy Mummy Feeds Young Its Skin!

(BBC News)

An international group of scientists has described an animal that provides nutrition for its young by letting them peel off and eat its skin.

The worm-like amphibian develops a nutritious outer layer of skin, and looks "relaxed" while its young rips it off with their teeth.

The researchers say this kind of parenting has never been seen before in land-living animals.

The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal Nature.

The Boulengerula taitanus is found in the Taita Hills of south-eastern Kenya. It lives underground and can grow up to 30cm (12in) in length. Adults have two rows of pointed teeth and feed on termites and insects.

The species was first identified in 1935, but its remarkable parenting methods have up until now remained undescribed.

An international scientific team carried out an expedition to Kenya to study the creature. The group collected some of the amphibians and set up videos to record their behaviour.

"The young are hatching out of eggs but they are not very well developed," explained Dr Alexander Kupfer, an author on the paper and a zoologist from the Natural History Museum, UK.

"They have very milky teeth and with these they rip off the mother's skin; but the mother seems very relaxed - not moving at all."

The skin of female B. taitanus becomes thicker and more nutrient-rich when she bears offspring and the young have specialised teeth for tearing and removing it.


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