New Delhi, Feb 22 : Indian researchers have discovered a new family of legless amphibians commonly known as Caecilians (one of the three groups of Amphibia) in north-eastern India and parts of Myanmar and Thailand.
The findings reported in Proceedings of Royal Society of London on Wednesday said the new family is different from the nine families of legless amphibians known to mankind.
These amphibians live below the soil and their discovery was after extensive research of five years. “The new family of amphibians from northeast India has ancient links to Africa,” said a study done by SD Biju of University of Delhi with co-researchers from the Natural History Museum, London and Vrije University, Brussels.
Biju said the remarkable discovery came following an unprecedented fieldwork effort of soil-digging surveys in about 250 localities spread over five years (2006-2010) in various parts of every Northeast Indian states (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim and Darjeeling district of West Bengal). “The work is the most extensive systematic program of dedicated caecilian surveys ever attempted”.
The legless amphibians lead a secretive lifestyle under soil making it extremely challenging to find them. They are reclusive and can be seen normally during rainy days.
It is believed that they separated from other species of caecilians more than 140 million years ago at the break-up of the southern continents (Gondwana). Their DNA was tested to reach this conclusion.
In addition to the surprising discovery of a new family the scientists also found that Chikilidae is a radiation of multiple species as yet unknown to science. “I am so glad because I am fortunate to discover two new families of amphibians, one in 2003 after a gap of 100 years, the famous purple frog, and today, Chikilidae” Biju said.
Globally, amphibians are the most threatened vertebrate group with one out of three surviving amphibian species on the verge of extinction. For the new species, the danger is rapidly disappearing green cover in Northeast India and immediate steps are required to protect the remaining forests from human activities like Jhum cultivation.
“Apart from habitat destruction, local myth also contributes to caecilian depletion; local communities believe that caecilians are extremely venomous ‘snakes’. Actually caecilians are neither venomous nor are they snakes! They never bite. They open their mouth only for feeding,” Biju said.