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. smb04d

    I was eating my breakfast when I saw the picture of the worms...I stopped eating after that.

    February 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • your mom


      February 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. FSM65

    All of you dummies who think these are worms need to READ the story before you make comments about these amphibians, which are NOT WORMS.

    February 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michae l J.

      Oh, quit being a worm.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DB

    Religion is about acceptance of something without proof. No surprise then, religious folks are quick to reject scientific proof, even if they have capability to see and test it themselves.

    February 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miss Such-and-Such

      I just think it's weird that so many religious folks have to react with such vitriol to every bit of scientific information they encounter. I mean, it's almost as if they've been attending a mind-control church that has been beating willful ignorance into them ever since they were little, and now they are emotionally programmed to react in a certain way, even though it does them no good, makes no sense, and has no purpose. It's one thing to say "I have a God". It's quite another to say "I have a God, and therefore any information that does not pertain to my God must be squelched".

      There was once a day when religious people would react this way to music. They had been told that music was evil, so they would react with fear, anger, and violence every time they ever heard any music. That was not helping anyone, right? It seems like the same thing with science.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      From my observation, it looks like they've just been responding to the taunting. Probably a bad idea.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miss Such-and-Such

      But no one is taunting the religious people, though. What happened is that they saw an article about science, so they responded by clicking on it, not reading it, and then going directly into the comments with their weird antiscience rhetoric FOR NO REASON.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • ViperGuy

      'Faith' is the assured expectation of things hoped for. It is not blind, and it IS supported by evidence.

      Just because most religions are indeed wrong, doesn’t mean the Being who had the Bible penned doesn’t exist. All it takes in creationism is ONE, just one improbable variable, not a billion, not a million, not even a hundred improbable variables like in evolution, just one. The odds of just ONE intelligent being coming into existence and causing to become, using his dynamic energy, has far greater odds than EVERYTHING coming about by chance and survival.
      The Earth started as a barren environment. This ONE being created everything, even created them to adapt to their ever changing environment. The animals would need to adapt as the paradise would expand, but they would not evolve into another species, that's mathematically impossible. DNA would have to first de-evolve before re-evolving down a mutated path; it just can't be done in a controlled environment, let alone by chance. Mutation is going backwards not forward. Why aren't appendages evolved in pairs? Why do we have two eyes, two hands, two legs... but one heart, one mind, one mouth? Chance, chaos, and time would dictate a different pattern, a third eye that can see at night, one arm in front, the other two on the sides, four legs and two hearts. Isn't more better? Why are there not an odd number of appendages. How is it that each appendage is the same length? Wouldn't I be fitter and survive if I had a third arm with a club attached for killing prey? Why can't I procreate without a mate? Wouldn't it be better to self procreate without a mate? The fittest would have that capability, it does exist with other species, so why not ours if we are superior? Why? Because we were created to enjoy our mate, to have equal length appendages to we "look" correct, and a built in club would detract from our purpose.

      By saying that if Evolution doesn't exist, then God can't exist is like saying that if a thousand homes didn't have a builder, then the one builder that built them all didn't exist. The odds are simply way more in favor of ONE intelligent being existing from nothing than all the billions of creation existing from nothing. Millions of improbable variables in evolution, only one improbable variable in creation. Why is this so hard to understand?

      It sounds to me that it takes more 'faith' to believe in a theory taught by high-strung professors and writers with the only goal to make money. The Truth is free and always has been, you just have to find it when it comes knocking.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Try not to characterize all "religious folk".

      I'm a christian but I believe in evolution and I believe in scientific proof such as this. There's nothing in the bible that states exactly how God made the world. For all we know those seven days of creation spanned over the course of millions of years. There's also nothing that proves that there is or isn't a God. Christianity is all about faith. So while your faith is in the fact that there is no God, my faith is in the fact that there is.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michae l J.

      What does religion have to do with finding a bunch of worms in the sand?

      February 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miss Such-and-Such

      Viper: That was an extremely illogical comment. I cannot even begin. I mean, like, WHAT?

      February 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miss Such-and-Such

      Matt: Who in the world ever said I have a faith in no God? Who said that? You are ASSUMING that anyone who disagrees with the mindless anti-science blather must automatically be an atheist. That is so weird. There are more than two options here. You can be religious, you can be an atheist, or you can be AGNOSTIC. I swear, it's like going to church causes brain rot.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      "DNA would have to first de-evolve before re-evolving down a mutated path; it just can't be done in a controlled environment, let alone by chance. Mutation is going backwards not forward. "
      That's just dead wrong. A child born with six fingers isn't reverting to some long-ago time when humans had six fingers. If that child grows up to marry a girl with six fingers, they might have a six-fingered child, etc. If that child became a great guitar player and impregnated dozens of groupies, we might have a new sub-race on our hands, so to speak. Any animal breeder can explain the terms, or google "Gregor Mendel."

      February 24, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • T.T. Redpill

      ViperGuy: It's the first time I hear someone mixing Jehovah's Witnesses nonsense with "scientific proof" in order to post a comment in an article!

      February 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. your mom

    this is narsty:)

    February 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Leonore H. Dvorkin

    They are creepy-looking critters, but the article is interesting.

    February 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. high hopes

    WHO gives a darn...

    HE got my point and we got his.



    February 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ereader

    You don't think its outright disgusting to look at this picture on the front page?

    February 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michae l J.

      Better than having YOUR ugly mug on the front page.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. high hopes

    I liked the post that said whatever they are... life, itself, is a miracle!

    February 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      The odds against us all are really high, and yet here we are anyway.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Myto Senseworth

    I wonder how they taste. Does anybody have a recipe?

    February 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      Probably like frog legs or gator tail.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Leucadia Bob

    They look like worms

    February 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. driranek

    Yea, it's nice that someone is investigating their position on the evolutionary tree, but let's stick to what's really important – are they tasty?

    February 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. gumbalay

    so what's for lunch today USA??

    February 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Li'l Guido

    Wait a minute! This is ALL bogus! The article says these are "caecilians", but they can't be. My grandfather was from Caecily, which is part of Italy, and he looked nothing like this. And he wasn't an Amphibian at all, he was Roman Catholic. I don't know what this has to do with evolution vs. creationism, but I think the people getting the most upset about it are probably Caecilians, or at least Italian.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      Luca Brasi sleeps with the amphibians.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. you people are all idiots

    This is why I never read comments on the internet. I scrolled down hoping for interesting facts about this discovery, and instead a bunch of R-words are having an entirely tangential and immature debate about crap that has nothing to do with any of this.
    Dear internet: if you're not qualified, just read the story and shut your stupid mouth.

    Short version: SHUT UP ALL OF YOU

    February 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      Sir, I assure you that I am eminently qualified to comment upon this droll narrative. Not all of the discussions have been completely fruitless; for example, we've ascertained that these creatures are related to newts and gingriches, that they appear "gross," and that the average North American is unable to process the idea that they are "not worms."

      February 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miss Such-and-Such


      February 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Li'l Guido

      Mr. Idiots,
      Paisan! I recognize a proud fellow Caecilian when I see one. I acknowledge your deep offense at this entire shameful episode and stand with you as your devoted (but confused) countryman against ignorance and buffoonery.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samwise

      "Paisan! I recognize a proud fellow Caecilian" Make him an offer he can't refuse.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Miss Such-and-Such

    The question is: Do these amphibians practice birth control and, if so, is it covered?

    February 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samwise

      "Do these amphibians practice birth control " They use rubbers. They crawl inside them .

      February 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
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