Amphiuma is a genus of aquatic salamanders, the only extant genus within the family Amphiumidae (pronounced /æmfɨˈjuːmɨdiː/). They are also known to fisherman as "conger eels" or "congo snakes", which are zoologically incorrect designations. Amphiumas have one of the largest amounts of DNA in the living world, around 25 times more than a human.
Amphiumas have an elongated body, generally grey-black in color. They do have legs, but they are very small - while amphiumas can be up to 116 cm (46 in) long, their legs measure only up to about 2 cm (0.79 in). Therefore, they can resemble eels. They also lack eyelids or a tongue.
Female amphiumas lay their eggs in wet mud, and then remain coiled around them for about five months, until they hatch. The larvae have external gills, but after about four months these external gills disappear and the lungs begin to work. One pair of gill slits, with fully functioning internal gills, is retained and never disappears, so the metamorphosis remains incomplete.
Amphiumas inhabit the southeastern part of the United States. They share much of the same distribution with the sirens, although they are not closely related.
In the past amphiumas have been further distributed. Fossils from the Pleistocene epoch show that they once were distributed in Europe as well.
During the day amphiumas hide in vegetation, and at night they become active and go hunting. Their prey include frogs, snakes, fish, crustaceans, insects and even other amphiumas. If provoked they can become aggressive. They can be found in most wetlands in the coastal plain of the southeastern U.S., even ones which periodically dry, as they are able to aestivate in the moist mud below drained marshland and other ephemeral wetlands. Amphiuma are rarely encountered on land, but it is possible.
There are three amphiuma species, distinguished by the number of toes:
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