The dense jungles of northeastern India have unearthed three new species of legless amphibians, bolstering the pristine forest's status as a veritable biodiversity treasure trove. Surveying the woods for three years reaps rich rewards for an Indo-British team which discovered three new species - resembling common earthworms - in Manipur and Nagaland. Interestingly one of the species has a moustache-like stripe on its upper lip.
This peculiar characteristic is being reported for the first time for caecilians - a category of amphibians that live hidden in the ground, making them the least explored order of amphibians and widely unknown.
Species with a moustache
Amphibian researcher SD Biju from the Delhi University (DU) and his colleagues named it as Ichthyophis moustakius which means an Ichthyophis species with a moustache. Its length approximately is a foot.
The team comprising scientists from the DU and the Natural History Museum in London surveyed the two states between 2006 and 2008. They literally dug tonnes of soil to unearth these amphibians.
Studying caecilians is always a challenge for scientists as they usually live under the soil and can be found only by digging up soil. There is no indicator that predicts where caecilians can be found.
"We have to dig and dig till we find what we are looking for. It's possible to find out more caecilian species from these states", Biju told Deccan Herald. The discovery comes after 12 years of the last sighting of caecilians in the northeast region by two researchers from the Zoological Survey of India, Chennai office. The other two species have been baptised as Ichthyophis sendenyu and Ichthyophis khumhzi, named after a remote Nagaland and Manipuri village respectively.
The 1.5 ft long I.khumzi is the longest species among the striped aecilians. The findings have been reported in the latest issue of Zootaxa, an international peer-reviewed journal. This discovery highlights the need to conserve these species and their habitats as they presumably came out for the first time owing to the loss of their traditional habitat.
Their habitats are rapidly disappearing and immediate steps are required to protect the forests from human activities like shifting cultivation.
Local myths also contribute to the depletion of the species as local communities erroneously believe caecilians are extremely venomous 'snakes'.
But in reality caecilians are neither venomous nor are they snakes! They never bite. They open their mouth only to feed themselves.