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. / Through a Scanner, Darkly

    Very Interesting

    February 23, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samwise

      February 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Howard

    It's the ALIEN!!!

    February 23, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |

      I Agree...!

      February 23, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. / Through a Scanner, Darkly

    @ M-Theory , You don't know how it works better than anyone else. Why be so condescending?

    February 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lana

      Looks alot like an earthworm to me...

      February 23, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheBob

      It's not "alot". It's "a lot". "Alot" has an entirely different meaning.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • aqua

      You are correct that it's "a lot" rather than "alot," but the latter is not a word. You must mean "allot," which is a word. The non-word, "alot" means only that the writer of it doesn't know any better.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mark

    I think this amphibian is interesting.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. justSaynn

    Looks like hundreds of earthworms I saw after rains in my yard as a kid or the night crawlers I used for fishn in the ozarks.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. FireStarter

    Can we eat them?

    February 23, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. FireStarter

    There is no god. You are the simple mind.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bible Student you enjoy the "God created the earth in one day" show. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the arth...", and then the bible goes-on to describe how God prepared the earth to be inhabited, never mentioning how long it took him to create the universe. It does mention 6 of his creative days that some confuse with our puny little earth orbit 24 hr. days. Nobody in their right mind believes that everthing came about in just a matter of days.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Much of the Bible has been proven to be that way.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Bob

      None of the bible has been proven. It's ancient mytholgy, written thousands of years ago by primitive people. Anyone who studies it using logic, reason and objectivity will naturally come to that conclusion. I'll take science anyday over ancient mythology.

      February 24, 2012 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Booker

      Well actually, he gives a clue as to how long that creative day was, and put so we could understand. There was morning and evening, 1 day.

      February 24, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  9. Obama is your God

    If he were to reinstate the draft, you would bow to him and gladly sacrifice your life to the god of war.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      This comment makes no sense.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Starfire :)

    Those dont look like an amphibian to me... Looks just like and Earthworm slimy natsy and slimy..
    Really if you agree with me reply because seriosly those are basically earthworms I mean look at the huge worm around the eggs please tell me that it looks like an earthworm

    February 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Secularosity

      Considering that the locals mistook them for snakes, I'd say they're very distinct from earthworms, at least in terms of size.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • nepawoods

      Look up "convergent evolution". Yeah, they look like earthworms. But they have bones. They evolved from salamanders that had legs (much like snakes evolved from lizards that had legs).

      February 24, 2012 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  11. Sunnylovetts

    Evolution is a joke. Stop making the sighting of a new creature abut your fantasy evolution.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • agodcomment4u

      Evolution is indicated by anatomy, patterns of development, DNA and geological record. People who dismiss it have a lot of explaining to do. But don't invoke your god. Keep it real.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • McSpung

      U one a them creationists eh?

      February 23, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samwise

      "Evolution is a joke" and the punchline is "Sunny Lovetts." All those years, generation after generation, and this is what we got? Maybe an Intelligent Designer will come along and finish him up.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. McSpung

    Looks delicious. Did anyone try it yet?

    February 23, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. kelly

    Pretty hilarious the idiotic comments here...Yes, it does resemble an earthworm externally, but internally it has things that earth worms do not have..

    February 23, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jackjack

    ewwww!!Looks like a nest of earthworms.

    February 23, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. There. Are. No. Gods!

    Uh oh! They printed the word "evolution" three times and hinted at THAT word in the first paragraph using the word "diverged". This is how many for science? And how little for religion? Physical proof is popping up all around us FOR evolution and the non-existence of gods, where is the physical proof for the existence of gods? Hmm. . . Anyone? Anyone at all? Didn't think so. There. Are. No. Gods!

    February 23, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      You can't prove or disprove the existance of God. Go back to school and take a first year logic course. Venn diagrams, logigal premises and conclusions, that fun stuff. Get your brain in working order. Then get back to us with a less condescending attitude. Thank you.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Samwise

      Aw, any Agnostic will tell you you can't prove or disprove it. God could be standing right behind you, and every time you turn, He moves with you. He could be on Mars right now, or disguised as Michael Moore. If He can do anything, then He can fool us.

      February 24, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
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