Scientists discover three new snake-like species in North-East

Welcome to the jungle
Last Updated 06 June 2013, 19:11 IST

Five years of field survey in the jungles of the North-East has paid dividends for a group of scientists who stumbled upon three new species of a legless, snake-like amphibian which lives under the soil.

The team led by a Delhi University (DU) professor also found a fourth species, described in textbooks from a single broken sample collected by a Britisher more than 100 years ago.

These amphibians are called caecilians. The blind soil-burrowing creatures belong to the family “Chikilidae”, with an ancient lineage of close to 140 million years. The  closest relatives of the species were found in Africa, and so far it is known to be restricted to only the north-east region of India.

Researchers at Delhi University and the Natural History Museum, London, have now found three new chikilidae species in Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
The fourth species, rediscovered after 100 years in Cachar in Assam, was spotted in Mizoram and Tripura too. The findings were reported in the latest issue of Zootaxa, an international journal on zoological taxonomy.

The new species were classified based on their distinct morphological features and DNA traits. They are blind as their eyes are deeply placed in the skull and covered with thick skin.

“Since they live under the soil, they don’t need to see. Having functional eyes require more energy,” DU biologist S D Biju, who led the team told Deccan Herald.

“A majority of the new species are from either highly degraded or fast depleting habitats. Immediate actions are needed to conserve these species through habitat protection,” he said. Globally there are less than 200 species of caecilians.

Frogs and caecilians are the two members of the amphibian group, which remains one of the most vulnerable species. The world has lost 200 amphibian species since 1980 and one out of every three surviving amphibians in the world are on the verge of extinction, suggests International Union for Conservation of Nature.

One of the species has been named Chikila alcocki in  honour of Alfred William Alcock, a former superintendent of Indian Museum, who described the first species (Chikila fulleri) that was rediscovered by Biju and his colleagues.

The other species were named Chikila Darlong (Darlong is the spot where it was found) and Chikila gaiduwani, named after one of the team member’s father Rachunlice G Kamei, who supported the team’s field research in the North-East.

The three new species belong to the same caecilian amphibian family Chikilidae that was described in 2012 from the North-East by the authors.

“This finding once again proves the poor state and incompleteness of Indian biodiversity inventory. But it is difficult to get study permission from the state forest departments and there is lack of funding for field expeditions,” he added.

(Published 06 June 2013, 19:11 IST)

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