A previously unknown species of legless amphibians found buried deep inside "monsoon-soaked" soils in the north-east region of India has been discovered by a team of biologists.
Led by Professor Sathyabhama Das Biju, the researchers identified the amphibians as belonging to an entirely new family known as "chikilidae". Although the species is endemic to the region, the researchers have mentioned they have ancient links to Africa.
For over five years, the team of researchers dug through forest beds in the remote region, at around 238 different locations. The team then found over 500 caecilians, the genetic testing of which indicated the species did not belong to any known family groupings of these animals. A closer look indicated the species seemed to have split off from their closest relatives in Africa more than 140 million years ago.
The discovery of the new species was published in the latest edition of the journal, the Royal Society of London.
According to LiveScience, females of this family build nests for their young underground, laying eggs and coiling around them for the two to three months it takes the embryos to hatch. Unlike frogs and other amphibians that develop through a tadpole or larva stage, these babies emerge as miniature adults. Although not seen in the new species, some types of caecilians get an extra nutritional boost from their mothers when they hatch: They literally eat the skin off her back.
India is often regarded as the hub of biological diversity, particularly in the amphibian world
The Associated Press reported that the chikilidae's discovery, made along with co-researchers from London's Natural History Museum and Vrije University in Brussels, brings the number of known caecilian families in the world to 10. Three are in India and others are spread across the tropics in Southeast Asia, Africa and South America.