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Indian researchers find new amphibians with ancient African links

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Chikilidae (Photo courtesy: Proceedings of the Royal Society for Biological Sciences)

Indian herpetologists have found a new family of limbless amphibians from northeastern region. It belongs to the rarest and most primitive of the amphibians, closest to the exclusive African species Herpelidae, existed some 140 million years ago.

Named Chikilidae, after Chikila, a tribal name for caecilians in Meghalaya, the legless, smooth-skinned tropical animal is primarily soil-dwelling.

The research finding by a team led by Dr. Biju Satyabhama Das of the University of Delhi was reported in the journal ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society for Biological Sciences’.

‘The discovery adds a major branch to the amphibian tree of life and sheds light on both the evolution and biogeography of caecilians and the biotic history of northeast India,’ notes the abstract of the research.  It took the team over five years and exploration at 238 spots in the northeastern region, before discovering the creature.

Chikilidae has distinct features like hard-skulled, worm-like body that helps it drill into hard soils. It grows upto 4 inches in size and can go without food for upto 50 days.

Researchers found over 500 teresomatan caecilians at 58 of the 238 localities surveyed from Arunachal Pradesh to Tripura in northeastern India. DNA testing revealed, these caecilians are more closely related to African Herpedidae than similar species found in India.

The findings would help scientists study the long history of wet topical environments in the region and a re-evaluation of its biogeographic history.

Researchers say, the ecological hotspot between the Himalaya and Indo-Myanmar is poorly documented and thus believe it is potentially rich with hidden biodiversity, requiring further explorations and conservation efforts.



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