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Abstract

An exceptional form of parental care has recently been discovered in a poorly known caecilian amphibian. Mothers of the Taita Hills (Kenya) endemic Boulengerula taitanus provide their own skin as a food source for their offspring. Field data suggest that nursing is costly. Females found attending young had a lower body condition and fat body volume than nonbrooding and egg-incubating females, and the female condition decreased substantially during parental care. Most mothers and their eggs or offspring were found in close proximity to other nesting females, in high-density nest sites that enhance the potential for social interactions and highlighting the possibility of communal breeding. Parentage was investigated using Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLP) genetic markers in 29 offspring from six litters guarded by putative mothers. Our data provide the first evidence of multiple paternity in a caecilian, implying that two fathers sired one litter. Some young from two litters had genotypes not matching the guarding female suggesting that not all offspring are cared for by their biological mothers. This study provides evidence for alloparenting in an amphibian with cost-intensive parental care. J. Exp. Zool. 309A:460–467, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.