New Limbless Amphibian Discovered in India’s Northern Forests

March 22, 2012
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In remote jungles of northern India, researchers recently discovered a previously unknown family of creatures — legless amphibians called chikilidae. The Associated Press reports that the creature was once thought to be a deadly mini-snake, but now much more is known about this amphibian that looks more like a worm than the primitive group to which it belongs, the caecilian group. The caecilian group of amphibians are not as commonly known as the frogs and salamanders that make up the other two groups of this class because they tend to stay underground for the entirety of their lives. While not much is known about the chikiidae yet, the scientists have already been able to observe stages of the reproduction process. The female stays with her eggs, incubating them for months and forgoing food during this period.

"Caecilians are the most cryptic group of animals, and it's not possible to identify whether it's a new species or genus or family just after collecting it," University of Dehli professor and lead researcher Sathyabhama Das Biju told the BBC. "We studied the molecules (DNA) and the morphology, both internal and external, to identify the species."

The researchers spent five years digging in the dirt of nearly 250 different locations across northern India before they found these limbless organisms. Their hard work paid off, and now they hope the discovery of the chikilidae will raise awareness of how much is left to discover in this corner of the world.

"This is a major hotspot of biological diversity, but one of the least explored," Biju told the AP. "We hope this new family will show the importance of funding research in the area. We need to know what we have so we can know what to save."

BBC News reports the survival of this freshly-discovered creature is threatened by deforestation caused by local slash-and-burn farming techniques and human population growth. In fact, the amphibian class is the most threatened classifications of creatures, as they account for approximately 40 percent of the species on the IUCN Red List.

Nature travel enthusiasts who plan to visit India should be sure to step lightly if they visit the forests. The chikilidae tend to be found in areas of the wilderness very near to human settlements. Conservation is especially important since population growth could force humans further into the territory of the chikilidae.