Feeding ecology and diet

Natural diets of amphisbaenians are poorly studied. Some laboratory studies of captive amphisbaenians have led researchers to suggest that amphisbaenians are specialized for feeding on large vertebrate prey, which they apparently handle and eat effectively in captivity. Interestingly, however, all direct studies performed to date on wild-caught animals indicate that amphisbaenians rarely exploit large prey in the wild but feed primarily on small invertebrates instead. The few direct diet studies completed for amphisbaenids indicate a remarkable degree of consistency in diet; all species studied so far appear to feed primarily on such prey items as termites, ants, adult and larval beetles, cockroaches, and lepidopteran larvae. A few irregular occurrences are notable. One study found six specimens of an amphisbaenid species with stomachs filled with fungi, and another study found one specimen with a lizard limb in its stomach and a second specimen containing an entire burrrowing snake.

For amphisbaenids, chemical and auditory cues are the most important means used in locating prey. The uniquely adapted middle ear system allows prey movements to be detected, while the forked tongue and the Jacobson's organ allow the detection of chemical odors. Airborne sounds are picked up and transmitted to the inner ear along the specialized extracolumellar apparatus, which may also amplify the vibrations as well. This unique anatomy is consistent with behavioral studies conducted in laboratory experiments, which suggest that amphisbaenians can hear prey movements through the soil.

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