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. Chas. Farmer

    Okay, evolution vs. creationism aside...A lot of posters think these things are earthworms. They are legless amphibians, which means they're vertebrates with spines, other bones, and central nervous systems; and they're related to other amphibians such as frogs, toads, and salamanders. In other words, you won't find these at 7-11s or gas stations with "Live Bait" signs on the windows.

    February 24, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      It is very important to a lot of people to deny that they even exist, since they were found by "Evil Scientists." Obviously it's a trick designed to turn them away from their religion. Man, if a new animal can destroy your religion, it wasn't much of a religion.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Miss Such-and-Such

      Also, they lay their eggs in water, but the adults can survive on land because they have lungs instead of gills.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • JustSayin

      Why's it gotta look like guts...

      February 24, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • steve chen

      thank you god for giving us these wonderful worms to advance our scientific understanding of the universe.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • fofotavour

      Dr. Peabody, the believers have no choice but to keep on believing no matter how many things proves that they faith is bogus because it's their faith and nothing else that keeps them going since the truth, reality, nature and logic is too painful for their weak mind.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • conrad

      It's only modern jadedness and excessive materialism that makes us forget that existence itself is marvelous and divine. Whether it is evolving or whether we can understand/manipulate it doesn't in any way change the miracle that it exists in the first place. The spectacular nature of all things needs nothing more than what it is to demonstrate holiness. No amount of mythology, science, or story telling will make any of it more or less perfect than it is. Taking the side of science or religion is delusional and only further creates confusion.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      "it's their faith and nothing else that keeps them going since the truth, reality, nature and logic is too painful for their weak mind."
      I can't agree; truth is truth, and their God says 'the truth shall make you free.' If Man is only a large and advanced ape, then he was that when Jehovah came thundering down to that burning bush, he was that when the Red Sea parted, and it was him Jesus came to save. The world's not flat; I just bounced these words off a satellite even though you humiliated Galileo. You have to admit the Bible's wrong about that, so stop being so literal-minded. Where the hell is their faith? If you believe Jesus is going to save you, does it matter who your remote ancestors were?

      February 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BOB

    OK, I'm not even going to bother looking at the comments from the anti-science crackpot community.

    February 24, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  3. BOB

    So they found worms...

    February 24, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. BOB

    God created these creatures no matter what, thank you Lord for giving us scientific knowledge and help us understand how you created everything 6000 years ago.

    February 24, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • X

      6000 years ago lol

      February 24, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • venusian

      I hope your joking.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil McCracken

      I agree with this poster. God made these creatures in his own image, and we should not question him!

      February 25, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  5. Leland

    Looks like a worm to me.

    February 24, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  6. FogHOrnLegHorn

    Wow, it's a worm. Does it cure AIDS, CANCER, ALZHEIMERS, HEART DISEASE, HAIR LOSS? No? than who cares about a new worm.

    February 24, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Miss Such-and-Such

      One never knows where scientific inquiry will lead. This particular wormphibian provides insight into the history of plate technonics.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • MonarchzMan

      First off, it's a caecillian, not a worm. It shares similar characteristics as worms because of the habitat it lives in. Just like with snakes, which also share a lot of similar characteristics as worms because snakes evolved as fossorial animals. Birds and bats share similar characteristics, but you're not about to call a bat a bird?

      Second, everything does not have to have an anthropocentric purpose. But, that said, amphibians are indicators of ecosystem health, and a healthy ecosystem is good for human health. So knowing that there is one more amphibian to watch for in India is good for watching for human health.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Hair loss?
      Wouldn't erectile dysfunction be the naural progession, given how these things look?

      February 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • conrad

      Because life itself is wonderous – it doesn't need to do anything to be worthy of our interest.

      Same reason people like to lay under trees and look at the sky in warm weather, or jump around in the ocean waves.
      As Aristotle said, the true purpose of humans is to be happy.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      "Wouldn't erectile dysfunction be the naural progession, given how these things look?" Man, you could use that picture as birth control. Put it on billboards and the birthrate would drop dramatically. It might cause spontaneous abortions, though. It makes my nose hair shrivel just looking at it.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. high hopes

    Maybe they've always been there...

    February 24, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  8. BOB

    Aren't these called worms??

    February 24, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Miss Such-and-Such


      February 24, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • poopiemcpoopface

      pretty sure it's a dinosaur

      February 24, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  9. high hopes


    Its a close-up of the earth...


    February 24, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • your mom

      no its not those are amphibians!!

      February 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      Look more like Uranus.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      more like Ura nus.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      It's Ura_nus.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      OK, why did this get held for an hour, then post? Maybe there really is a Human Moderator? I thought He was only a Myth. I believe now.

      February 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samwise

      Praise to Him! Let's start a religion, since we have a miracle. Hail to the Moderator!

      February 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Grahamalam

    hang on they found one more in noah's ark.

    trolli better jump on this new amphibian gummy worm

    February 24, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. Dirty

    Sooooo.............................again, they found worms....right everyone?

    February 24, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • your mom


      February 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. CenTexan

    Man I'll be glad when they remove this photo!

    February 24, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Me too!

      February 24, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  13. Lisa

    Look more like parasites than amphibians.

    February 24, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. Iamabiologist

    It's convergent evolution in that they look like worms/snakes. Meaning, while they may not necessarily have come from the same common ancestor who looks like a 'worm', they have developed these characteristics independently. They are not worms or snakes simply because they look like them. That would be like saying a bat is a bird because it has wings.

    February 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • conrad

      It goes to show that the conditions of the earth compel life to grow in the various forms we see around us.

      Perhaps other conditions would yield different looking/functioning life forms?

      February 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. TG

    What is wrong with you people. Are you numbnuts or idiots. The fact that they discovered new species is a scientific phenomenon and if any one of you who criticize this discovery is infact an illiterate person who never took a science course in his/her life. I am amzed at the stupidity of these people who are ignorant and stupid. These are the people who would like to see people like Sarah Palin who does not believe in evolution and thank god she is not a candidate for the president. God help America!

    February 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Feel better now?

      February 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
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