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New limbless amphibian species discovered in NE

Wednesday, 05 June 2013 | Moushumi Basu | New Delhi
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They are neither worms nor snakes — even though they may resemble them — but soil burrowing limbless amphibians that are new to Science, says a new research. Three new species of amphibians have been discovered in the forests of Northeast India.

The study team that discovered this unique species was led by Amphibian researcher Professor SD Biju. Besides University of Delhi, the project also had collaboration of The Natural History Museum, London through The Royal Society London/CSIR, India initiatives and Vrije University of Belgium.

When the analysis of the species was complete, the researchers found they not only had a new species on their hands, but the first representative of a hitherto unknown family. These three new species have been named as Chikila alcocki, Chikila darlong and Chikila gaiduwani.

This elusive species was pictured guarding a brood of eggs. Biju and his team was surprised to discover that females of this newly named species, remained protectively coiled around their developing offspring for up to three months, without eating anything. She has been seen constantly with her eggs. “Such levels of maternal care are rarely seen in amphibians,” informed Biju.

This buried treasure for the research team in the form of a clutch of eggs in the muddy nest was the result of five years digging in over 250 spots across North-Eastern India. These include Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim and Darjeeling district of West Bengal such that the sampling represents the entire bio-geographic region.

A total of more than 2,000 hours spent digging beneath tropical undergrowth produced about six suspected new species, three of which have now been confirmed, said Biju. “Because of their burrowing nature and cryptic appearance, they are very difficult to see above the soil,” he added.

A 3-D skull reconstruction based on CT scans shows tiny distinctions in the jaw, nose, and eye structures of the snakelike amphibians, which show the new family belongs to an ancient lineage whose nearest relatives live in Africa, the study team said. DNA evidence indicates that the Indian group split off from other caecilians more than 140 million years ago.

However, the conservation of this species may be a threat, fears the research team. “We found them not only in the forest area but also very close to human settlement, so conservation of this group is extremely challenging,” felt Biju.

According to the study team, some of these animals have reportedly been killed by villagers who mistook them for poisonous snakes. In fact, they carry no venom. Globally, amphibians are the most threatened group of animals, with about 40 per cent of species on the internationally-recognised red list. 

 
 
 
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