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. Maggie

    Please do not talk about the bible because you do not know what the bible really teaches. Do not repeat things other people are saying but rather you should make an accurate investigation about something before starting making assumptions. Show me in the bible where it says the planet is flat. You can not. You know why because the bible does not say that. But I can show in the bible where it says the shape of the planet and that was written more than 3,500 years ago.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • lizzy

      i never said the bible said the earth was flat. and actually, maggie, i have read it.

      February 24, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Kip

      The Bible describes the Earth as a circle in some places, as having four corners in others, and that heavens stretched across the earth (sort of like a canopy, which isn't possible if the world is a sphere.

      Job 38:15 "The earth takes shape like clay under a seal." Sounds like a flat disc.

      Many of the people of the time knew the Earth was round like a sphere though because of sailing, where one looks out at a ship along the horizon and it appears to sink as it moves further away. It just shows that the writers of the Bible were ignorant, not the general people of the time,

      February 24, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Gracko

      So, you're saying the Bible was written 3,500 years ago? I think you're slightly off.

      February 24, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  2. JJ

    Ughh, more Bible debate. Can we give it a rest Christians? Really, it's Friday, let's just have some fun today.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. Maggie

    People should not make comment a book that they never take the time to read.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      *Now* who is making assumptions?

      February 24, 2012 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. Casey

    Isn't this an Earthworm

    February 24, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • puerhtea

      Superficialy, it look like an earthworm. But if you were to look closer, you would see that one extremity has a jaw and two eyes. Also, these things have bones.

      February 24, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • sameer

      I was also thinking like that... But they know it better !

      February 24, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. jayquik

    Woot, they discovered earth worms... SCORE!

    February 24, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
    • r-hope

      There is a world of difference: earthworms are NOT vertebrates.... nor are they amphibians.
      Read your biology notes.....

      February 24, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
    • a

      lol your soo right

      February 24, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. palintwit

    That looks like a photo of lunch for the Palins.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  7. Casey

    Isn't this and an earthworm??????

    February 24, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
    • r-hope

      I think the Earthworm is an invertebrate

      February 24, 2012 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  8. Maggie


    I went back and read your comment again. Sorry

    February 24, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • lizzy

      thank you, maggie.

      February 24, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  9. r-hope

    Well, untill mothers develop a second pair of arms, evolution will remain a theory to me....
    I'll keep checking for shoulder sprouts but i'm not holding my breath.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. Justin

    It's really interesting that such a creature exists. I'm not a biology expert, so I don't know if snakes would fall into this catigory or not.
    However, I'm excited to see what other creatures might be discovered in India; our world is probably teeming wildlife that has yet to revealed.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. XtianNation

    @ColoNative75- I don't have absolute proof of God either!!! That's where faith comes in!!!! At the same time, the existence of a prime causer is necessary and my faith makes it necessary to try to bring as many people to God as I can, so I will KEEP bringing up Christianity!!!!

    February 24, 2012 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
    • anotherview

      Your man made god hasn't done a single thing since it was created by man thousands of years ago.

      You don't have any proof of your man made messiah either. That's the reason your religion is called a religion of faith.

      You believe in spite of having no proof.

      February 24, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • JMB

      I seriously cannot believe these religious nuts are still fighting the idea of evolution ?? Just using a bit of common sense.. it makes so much more sense than an invisible man that lives in the clouds.. who supposedly is all knowing and all loving yet needs money ?? Blatant stupidity at its best.. Religion is most definitely for the very frail minded folks who feel "there has to be something afterwards".. Beyond ridiculous.. "I have faith".. what a bunch of crybabies..

      February 24, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  12. ColoNative75

    XtianNation – you keep calling fro proof. You provide your proof of God and we will provide prrof of evolution.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • XtianNation

      Why?!? I KNOW that my belief in God is based on faith and I can be honest about that!!!! Evolutionists keep pretending that their THEORY is a fact so they should be able to provide evidence!!!! They can avoid that just by admitting that their belief is based on faith too!!!

      February 24, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  13. ColoNative75

    XtianNation – your faith in God and your religion are not the same thing. Your religion requires that you try to recruit as many people as you can, not your God.

    February 24, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
    • XtianNation

      My God is the God of Abraham and He wants to save as many people as He can!!!

      February 24, 2012 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
    • JMB

      To" XtianNation..

      You are a clown and so is your so called 'god'.... a magic man who lives in the clouds. Seriously.. do you know how ridiculous that sounds ? Its 2012 not 1012.. grow up and move on.. "my god is the god of abraham".. you sound like a 2nd grader crying those words.. you make me sick..

      February 24, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. Maggie

    Faith is not blind.

    February 24, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  15. cHOOCHOO


    February 24, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
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