Scientists: New amphibian family augurs more India discoveries
An adult Chikilidae, a new family of legless amphibian known as a caecilian, is shown with eggs and hatchlings in India.
February 23rd, 2012
07:27 PM ET

Scientists: New amphibian family augurs more India discoveries

Scientists have found what they say is a new family of legless amphibians in Northeast India - animals they say may have diverged from similar vertebrates in Africa when the land masses separated tens of millions of years ago.

The find, the scientists say, might foreshadow other discoveries in Northeast India and might help show the area played a more important evolutionary role than previously thought.

The creatures are part of an order of limbless, soil-dwelling amphibians called caecilians - not to be confused with snakes, which are reptiles. Caecilians were previously known to consist of nine families in Asia, Africa and South America.

But different bone structures in the head distinguish this apparent 10th family, and DNA testing links the creatures not to other caecilians in India, but to caecilians that are exclusively from Africa, the scientists report this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

The new family has been dubbed Chikilidae by the scientists from India, Belgium and the United Kingdom, including lead author Rachunliu Kamei, who was pursuing her doctorate at University of Delhi. The team found them during what it believes is the first caecilian survey in Northeast India, digging at 238 sites from 2006 to 2010.

“It’s an amazing thing to find a new family, especially vertebrates, in this day in age,” Global Wildlife Conservation president Don Church, who was not part of the team but knows Kamei and the team’s other scientists, told CNN on Thursday. “Birds, reptiles and amphibians really were thought to have been well worked out at the family level.”

The burrowing amphibians “exhibit an intriguing and highly specialized reproductive behavior,” the team’s leader, University of Delhi professor Sathyabhama Das Biju, told The Times of India.

“The mother builds underground nests for her eggs, guards her egg-clutch by coiling around them until the embryos hatch after 2-3 months,” he told The Times of India. “The eggs undergo direct development - they feed on the yolk reserves and come out as miniature adults.”

Residents of the area had mistaken the amphibians for snakes, the Indian news outlet reported.

Chikilidae’s link to the African caecilians, and its divergence and survival in Northeast India during the subcontinent’s isolation before it joined with Asia, suggests the area had long-term ecological stability. That suggests it might have more life endemic to that region than is currently recognized, the scientists say in the report.

Scientists traditionally have viewed Northeast India as just a passageway where flora and fauna moved between biodiversity hotspots in Southeast Asia and a different part of India, Church said.

“Now, with a study like this, we realize that this part of the world is important not just for the movement of plants and animals between the Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia, but an important area for evolution in its own right,” Church said.

“This discovery begs the question: What else has happened up there in terms of evolution of life in Northeast India?” he added.

Geographically distinct Northeast India has not been studied well, and many other undocumented creatures and flora may await there, according to the team. The region is almost cut off from the rest of India, nearly surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar and China.

Time, they say, is of the essence.

“Further explorations and conservation actions are urgent because the region’s biodiversity is generally under high threat from the growing resident human population and rapid deforestation,” the scientists say in their report.

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Filed under: Amphibians • Animals • India • Nature • Science
soundoff (516 Responses)
  1. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    The new family has been dubbed Chikilidae by the scientists from India, Belgium and the United Kingdom, eventually to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

    February 23, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tlobb

    They look like earthworms.

    February 23, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sam

    Um..... That is a worm

    February 23, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • problem dude

      no really

      February 23, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lukee

      No it isn't. Worms arent vertebrates. This is a vertebrate. Worms are also monecious, which means they have both sperm and egg in one worm. These are diecious which means they are sexually distinct, one is clearly male and one is clearly female. At least that's what I got from the article.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      Actually it's not. Look close and you can see that they look like snakes as well.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. goodfellow

    ooooo..oooooo I know what they should call it a worm or snake or something like that.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Doc

    Um, no it's not a worm. But thanks for playing. Worms don't have bones.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Abraham

    Now if US law would only discover the huge electic powerplant the ENRON corporation built in India with the funds they stole from US. ENRON was a Bush-Bin Laden Group controlled corporation. That huge powerplant they built in India purchaes natural gas from the Bush-Bin Laden Group's Caspian basin holdings even to this very day. There ought to be a law.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Worst seg *ever*!

      These things are just plain creepy...

      February 23, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Peggy

    I hope that they can't crawl under the car and poop all over the engine, like pack rats do.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dear Wormbrains

    Do the two of you claiming that these are worms expect to win an argument or something? You might as well be calling them elephants for all the impact that has on what they actually are.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Abraham

    Really. It should be illegal for a US corporation like ENRON to rip US off, get caught ripping US off, and STILL allowed to operate overseas. ENRONS accounting firm also got busted. So they moved their headquarters to The Caymen Islands, changed their name, and still conduct business to this very day! Just like the carpet store that frequently has "going out of business" sales. The same people re-open the business and do the scam again and again.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod C. Venger

      What're you whining about?

      February 23, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThoseDarnCarpetStores

      @Rod – He's whining about those carpet stores that have the fake going out of business sales and never seem to go out of business...and I don't blame him. They drive me crazy too!

      February 23, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      He's either just whining or just read a Michael Moore book....

      February 23, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joe

    That would be an earthworm.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Fiona

    The fascinating thing is that the females guard their clutch for so long.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe

    Bones? So they crunch when you squish 'em !

    February 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • MalloryWin


      February 23, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joe

    That baby one at the top right looks familiar!

    February 23, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guesteppi

      That's Bill Maher, dude.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. quinchy

    "The caecilians /siːˈsɪliənz/ are an order (Gymnophiona) of amphibians that superficially resemble earthworms or snakes." – wikipedia

    February 23, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lukee

    It's actually not a worm, and here's why: worms aren't vertebrates and these are. Worms are also monecious which means they have both sexual organs in one body. These, as I have inferred from the article, are diecious which means they are sexually distinct; one is clearly male and one is clearly female. And I'm pretty sure this animal has a true coelom whereas worms have a pseudocoelom. And those are just a few of the many reasons it cannot be a worm. Hope this cleared things up.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
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