New amphibian species found in Western Ghats|jon_downes||12/19/04 at 01:44:55|jon_downes|xx|0||New amphibian species found in Western Ghats


MUMBAI: It looks, quite literally, like something that crawled out from under a rock. And that's just what is distinctive about a new species of caecilian, or legless amphibian, discovered in Maharashtra's Western Ghats by scientists from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and London's Natural History Museum.

Indotyphlus maharashtriensis, Maharashtra's most newly recognised son-of-the-soil, can grow to 20 cm long and looks much like a worm, although it also has small eyes, a jaw and teeth.

Identifiable by the annuli or rings around their bodies, caecilians are burrowing animals that ordinarily live in leaf litter. The new species, however, has been found under rocks on the forest floor.

Amphibians like caecilians, frogs and salamanders are ecologically important because they begin their life cycle in water, but spend their adult life on land.

This dual environment means they are especially susceptible to environmental changes, including water pollution levels and temperature fluctuation, says Prashant Tamhane of the BNHS. This sensitivity makes caecilians a good indicator of environmental change.

BNHS scientist Varad Giri says that the new addition to the 25 previously recorded species of caecilian in Indiamay not be as glamorous as a tiger, but is as ecologically significant. "Caecilians are not charismatic animals," he admits, "but it is important to study them because amphibians in the western ghats are poorly documented so far, and many species may even become extinct before they have been recorded."

The research team, which includes Giri, Natural History Museum scientists Mark Wilkinson and David Gower, as well as BNHS researchers, last year discovered another new caecilian, named gegeneophus danieli after the naturalist J C Daniel, an honorary secretary of the BNHS.

The BNHS and Natural History Museum plan to set up a study centre in the Ghats to document the area's caecilians.