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.

Post by:
Filed under: Amphibians • Animals • India • Nature • Science
soundoff (516 Responses)
  1. Zoe

    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 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DrD

    What? No god comments?

    February 23, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • agodcomment4u

      The big one looks like a cartoon I once saw of al-lah

      February 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrD

      Chris wins (see below)

      February 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrD


      Runner up ... you get a consolation prize

      February 23, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rod C. Venger

    It looks like a nightcrawler to me. Maybe they should have shown a photo with the head visible.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Confused

      Look ma, fish bait !

      February 23, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bobby Joe

    What kind of fish do you catch with 'em?

    February 23, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chris

    Jesus Christ made these animals, NOT EVOLUTION!!!!! Evolution is an invention by Satan!

    February 23, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrD

      We got a winner ... Jesus Chris(t) ... congrats

      February 23, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • agodcomment4u

      You mean Thor made them. No, wait Zeus. Hold it a sec... try Allaha. No... this is the work of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrD

      nothing like worm-looking snakes to bring out the right wing religious crazies ... methinks it be Satan, that worm-snake

      February 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Duh of course it was GOD. And its not NEW Noah was able to find 2 of them along with 2 of every species on earth within walking distance of his Arc.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrD


      "Duh" I couldn't have said it better

      ... do you really believe this, or are you just trying to stir the pot?

      February 23, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • M-Theory

      Yes... you are correct little one....him along with Santa. Now back to your crib for nappy-naps.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Satan

      yup he's right!!!

      February 24, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. lila

    The locals just thought it was some type of snake, how funny it turned out to be a new family of amphibian. The eggs are pretty neat looking.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      The more importand question people will ask is how do thoise eggs *taste*....

      February 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mk

    Thank you God, not evolution LOL

    February 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. YumYum

    Anyone know any good recipes for these morsels?

    February 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrD

      raw and wiggling

      February 23, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Big Jilm

    Fundies, please open your third grade science books: worms don't have bones; amphibians do.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrD

      right ... 'cause they're invertebrates

      February 23, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Confused

      A slimy wiggling spine. Hmm, maybe we all evolved from this thing instead of monkey !?

      February 23, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Navin Johnson

    @Chris. You got some things wrong. Evolution does not make anything. It just explains how species gradually change and diverge over time. Satan, according to Christians, was made by God.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chris

    Did you ever think that the devil just put all of those fossils around to test your faith!!! how stupid can you all be? Just look around, God exist everywhere!!!

    February 23, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris C

      I see Ikea and Target

      February 23, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Satan

      “Religion has convinced people that there's an invisible man ... living in the sky. Who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn't want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer, and suffer, and burn, and scream, until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you. He loves you and he needs money.”
      ― George Carlin

      February 24, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Samwise

      "Did you ever think that the devil just put all of those fossils around to test your faith!!!" Maybe He made the internet to tempt you into being a troll? If the Devil did that, then he, not god, made the world. Careful, you'll go to hell for thinking too hard.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. raven

    Double Ick.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. the fear

    Looks like worms to me.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. twang

    If people thought they were snakes, i wonder how big they are? They look like worms in the pic. I hope the asians dont read this, if they think it might give them a hard-on they will kill them into extinction

    February 23, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • GoodOne

      Excellent comment.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  15. Cameron

    Aw, how cute.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14