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. Mike w

    Nature is awesome and gross.

    February 24, 2012 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
    • mpouxesas

      they look like they came out of a NY city sewer....

      February 24, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
    • this stuff is gross

      Looks like a worm to me.....amphibian or not

      February 24, 2012 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      Research indicates it may be descended from santorum worms.

      February 24, 2012 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ryan

    CNN, the phrase is "day and age," not "day in age."

    February 24, 2012 at 6:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Willis

      It was a quote, not a fault in editing. If that's what the person said then it's their fault.

      February 24, 2012 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
    • mary

      @Willis - I think you mean "his or her" fault.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Communications major

      Stop with all the corrections. If you can write a better article, go do it. For the rest of us, we're not going to cry over minor mistakes. You still understand what the author was trying to convey. Go get a hobby.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. Kelly

    Is it me or does it seem the editing department decided to add "they say" or "they believe" after every mention of "the scientists"? I guess they didn't want to offend the creationists.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. John G.

    Are they for sale? I would like one as a house pet.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
    • CB

      I would like one to put up my butt

      February 24, 2012 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
  5. longtooth

    Looks like something crawled out of the meatloaf at the local diner.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |

    That's the missing piece of Osama Bin Laden's brain!

    February 24, 2012 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. LuisWu

    Hmm... looks a lot like GOP presidential candidates.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:02 am | Report abuse |
    • whisk3rs


      February 24, 2012 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      It is a limbless Newt.

      February 24, 2012 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Beowulf Schaeffer

      It's a minature banders natch.

      February 24, 2012 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  8. James

    II have seen this around one of the Hindu God's neck..

    February 24, 2012 at 7:03 am | Report abuse |
    • kay

      from when did God take up Hinduism 😉

      February 24, 2012 at 7:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. midloo

    Ahhh! They are too ugly to live. Please kill them with fire.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Peabody M. Clamjuice, Ph. D

      Wait until they start to troll the internet.

      February 24, 2012 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
  10. Amused1944

    I'm still waiting for the discovery of intelligent life on this planet.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Playjojo

      The first "Intelligent" comment I've read yet.

      February 24, 2012 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
    • whisk3rs

      This thread delivers!

      February 24, 2012 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
    • WASP

      @Amused1944: lol too funny.

      February 24, 2012 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  11. That's just wormical.

    What's with all the hate twoards these worms? Think about this – they've adapted to survive!

    February 24, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
  12. leave it alone

    looks like a dew worm\night crawler. anyone up for some fishing?

    February 24, 2012 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |

      I'll bring the beer!

      February 24, 2012 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
  13. Michel

    Any word on how large they are? According to the article, the locals thought they were snakes, not worms. Fascinating!

    February 24, 2012 at 7:32 am | Report abuse |
  14. gix

    I was eating my McD's sausage biscuit with egg and saw this pic on CNN. Gag reflex kicked in...

    February 24, 2012 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Sal Amander

      I'd think that would have more to do with the source of your breakfast than the picture.

      February 24, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  15. Mike

    Ive seen one of these before.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
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