Scientists Dig Up New Limbless Amphibian In India
April 26, 2012

Scientists Dig Up New Limbless Amphibian In India

Brett Smith for

A joint team of UK and Indian scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of worm-like amphibian living near Kerala, India.

Scientists from the University of Kerala and Natural History Museum in London found the species while digging in the moist soil of a shrub-lined mountain stream after a monsoon, according to the study published in Zootaxa.

The animal, named Gegeneophis primus, measured about six-and-a-half inches and was found in the valley of an Indian plantation. It belongs to a limbless group of amphibians know as caecilians typically found living in the tropical grounds of Asia, Africa, and South America. It is the first discovery of a new Gegeneophis species to be reported from Kerala since 1964.

Unlike most caecilians, which have dark skin, G. primus has a pink exterior.  The skin of the new species, like all caecilians, has numerous ring-shaped folds, or annuli, that partially wrap the body. This gives the animals a segmented worm-like appearance. Like other amphibians, their skin contains glands that secrete a toxin to help deter predators

The researchers discovered the new species while looking for a different caecilian know to have inhabited the Kerala region over 140 years ago. After a second monsoon, another collection of animals was taken from the same location. The discovery of this new species was then confirmed by researchers in London.

According to the Zootaxa story, this animal, which scientists dubbed the Malabar Cardamom Geg, was not likely to be under threat as long as its habitat was maintained. The researchers said they were interested in finding out the distribution of the species to further gauge its habitat requirements.

They expressed some concern that human activities could disrupt the species, which basically shares a habitat with humans.

“The discovery on a plantation points out that these elusive animals are very vulnerable to anthropogenic activities and are living silently right under our feet," lead author of the report Ramachandran Kotharambath, told BBC News.

Like all amphibians, caecilians undergo a metamorphosis and live both on land and in water during the course of their life cycle. About 25 percent of caecilians are egg-laying, with some species´ eggs hatching larvae and others hatching offspring that have already undergone the metamorphosis. The hatched larvae spend time on both land and in water.

The newly discovered species belong to the egg-laying family Indotyphlidae, which is known to show maternal care, with the mother guarding the eggs until they hatch.

On land, caecilian muscles are adapted to pushing the animal through the ground, with the animal anchoring its hind end in position,  forcing its head forwards, and then pulling the rest of the body up to reach it. In water or loose mud, caecilians swim in an eel-like fashion. Aquatic caecilians in the family Typhlonectidae have a fleshy fin running along the rear section of their body, which enhances propulsion in water.

The diet of caecilians is not fully understood. Mature caecilians seem to feed on both insects and invertebrates found in their local habitat. A report published last month in the Journal of Herpetology said another species, Caecilia gracilis, found in northeastern Brazil eats a specific diet of earthworms.