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. BR316

    Worms or no worms. How about the fact that picture is far out nasty. That's not mud, it looks more like poo! There's corn in that picture.

    February 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samwise

      I think god must have eaten something that disagreed with Him right before He made these creatures. I mean, Holy Sh1t!

      February 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

    I'm just sayin,' if I was an Intelligent Design believer, and my debate assignment was to defend "God made these snotwads," I'd call in sick that day. If these were designed, it was on a Monday morning after a lot of drinking.

    February 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      LOL! Great post.

      February 24, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • gengis khan

      u like it cause u can relate...u r n alky...

      February 27, 2012 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      "..u r n alky..." No, it's clam juice. Read the label.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerry

      They were made right after the platypus and just before the Democrats........

      February 28, 2012 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  3. Red

    I don't know why the Indians would think they were snakes, they look like plain harmless earthworms to me.

    February 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samwise

      It's as big around as your wrist and swims in water.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mel

    More tangible evidence on the origin of Republicans in general and Newt Gingrich in particular!

    February 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samwise

      Callista has to look at one of these every time Newt drinks Scotch.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Name*Rob

    Phony if you ask me. Pritty sure they are known as the smallest snakes in the world they look like worms I used for cat fish.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      "Phony if you ask me" Who asked you? Are you an expert, like me?

      February 27, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  6. jj

    Always good to find another type of life on earth.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      All I can say is I'm glad that nasty mess was found on the other side of the globe.

      February 25, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Fossilhund

    Folks, I am so ready to start my own science website where science news can be reported along with intelligent replies to the stories. There would be no arguments between religous fundamentalists versus agnostics/atheists. For what it is worth I am a Christian who also happens to have a degree in Zoology. The Bible has kept me afloat through hard times but I have never seen it as a biology textbook. Faith is Faith, and Science is Science.
    That being said, this is a neat story. When I read this type of thing I can't help but wonder what other species are out there that have yet to be discovered?
    About my science website...........I can always dream......sigh..............

    February 24, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      There have actually been some decent responses to this article; we've linked the creatures to both newts and gingriches, ascertained that North Americans believe they are annelids despite being told they are endoskeletal, and done some surveys that point to a market for them as seafood. I'd prefer to talk about plate tectonics myself, but ya gotta go with the audience you have. Is the Neander Valley the best place to dig for fossil hunds, by the way?

      February 27, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  8. Fossilhund

    As I said in my last post, there would be Intelligent responses and replies; this would exclude some of the responses by some of the apparent adults who've yet to reach a mental age of ten..........sigh......

    February 24, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Fossilhund

    Hail to the Moderator.........More like Uranus................they look like worms I used for catfish............Sigh............I rest my case on the need for a website for those truly interested in Science.
    bangbangbangbang *the sound of Fossilhund's head making repeated contact against the nearest available wall in sheer frustration after reading some of the responses to this story*

    February 24, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      The Moderator exists; never doubt His power. He may have created Gail.

      February 27, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  10. Fossilhund

    A girl can always dream........right?..........sigh...............

    February 25, 2012 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
    • gremlinus

      Kiddo, if you are coming to a CNN forum looking for a good scientific debate, you can't know too much about science. If you want to talk evolution, talkorigins used to be a good place to start. I haven't been there lately.

      February 27, 2012 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. Gail

    Are Nancy Grace & Tony Bennett related?? they both show a related lack of compassion, ignorance & over inflated ego's. From the 1st word I heard out of this so-called journalists mouth, my stomache rolled, my intestines rumbled & I was sick to think that any network would even codsider using her. I will never tune in anywhere, anytime, to any network that has anything to do with this thing that has constipation of the brain & diarrhea of the mouth. Was she unloved as a child?, abused? What a horrible person she is, certainly not a "journalist"! I have yet to hear one person speak well of her. REMOVE HER!!! ASAP!!

    February 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe

    I wonder how they taste?

    February 27, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

    In summary, most laymen seem unable to accept that these are not roundworms, would like to know how they taste, and would possibly vote for one if its political views weren't too liberal. Not really moving science forward, are we? At least they don't want to declare war on them or teach them to rap.

    February 27, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. yomomma

    Ya sure can tell this is a CNN web site. Was Rosie O'Donnell too mentally challenging?

    February 28, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  15. rotweilerlover

    disgusting creatures, at least their on the other side though they look like slimy worms ew find a new frog or something like a new fish

    March 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
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