New family of legless amphibians found in India


Since before the age of dinosaurs it has burrowed unbothered beneath the monsoon-soaked soils of remote northeast India.

But this legless amphibian's time in obscurity has ended, thanks to an intrepid team of biologists led by University of Delhi professor Sathyabhama Das Biju. Over five years of digging through forest beds in the rain, the team has identified an entirely new family of amphibians endemic to the region but with ancient links to Africa.

Their discovery, published Wednesday in a journal of the Royal Society of London, gives yet more evidence that India is a hotbed of amphibian life with habitats worth protecting against the country's industry-heavy development agenda. It also gives exciting new evidence in the study of prehistoric species migration, as well as evolutionary paths influenced by continental shift.

The chikilidae's home in long-ignored tropical forests now faces drastic change under programs to cut trees, plant rice paddy, build roads and generate industry as India's economic growth fuels a breakneck drive in development. More industrial pollutants, more pesticides and more people occupying more land may mean a world of trouble for a creature that can be traced to the earliest vertebrates to creep across land.

Even people living in northeast Indians misunderstand the caecilians, and rare sightings can inspire terror and revulsion, with farmers and villagers chopping them in half out of the mistaken belief that they are poisonous snakes.

Biju's team worked best during monsoon season, when the digging is easier and chikilidae lay eggs in waterlogged soils. Gripping garden spades with blistered hands, the researchers along with locals they hired spent about 2,600 man hours digging for the elusive squigglers, usually found about 16 inches deep.




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