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Bizarre New Creature Looks Like a Worm/Snake Hybrid

Jan 16, 2015 04:30 PM EST
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That's one big worm! Or is it a snake? Actually, it's neither. A new species of legless amphibian was recently discovered in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains that is helping conservationists flesh out the region's heavily understudied biodiversity.

The new species, Ichthyophis cardamomensis, looks a lot like a massive earthworm with a snake's head. Nearly a foot long (30 cm), with a glistening dark brown, evenly-sectioned body, the amphibian is reportedly one of only three unstriped I. caecelians recently discovered (the other two were found in Vietnam).

Often banded or striped, and with no limbs to speak of, most caecelians are simply mistaken for snakes, causing the amphibian group to be frequently overlooked. However, these three new species, as described in the journal Organisms Diversify and Evolution, are exceptionally unique.

That's a big deal for scientists, who they themselves have difficulty telling one caecilian from another. Although they have typical scaleless amphibian skin - clearly different from a snake's - and a skull and bones - differing them from worms - they all look practically the same, even when boasting varied sizes. Researchers often turn to comprehensive morphological and molecular (DNA) analyses to recognize when they have new species on hand.

Zoologists and lead paper author, Peter Geissler from the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, Germany, recently explained in a Fauna and Flora International (FFI) release that the "three distinct unstriped Ichthyophiid species... are now described as new species, almost doubling the number of Ichthyophis species known from the Indochinese region."

FFI herpetologist Neang Thy added that discoveries like this are important because it helps experts better understand the region's diversity.

"We are still learning about this area and the animals in it, since it was a region formerly held by the Khmer Rouge and the mountains were closed to researchers until the 1990s," he explained.

Even now open to the world, "the Cardamom region it is under threat from logging, land concessions, and other habitat destruction," Thy added. "The danger of any new species, including the new caecilian, is that they may be discovered one year and go extinct the next."

Understanding local fauna, he and his colleagues press, can help conservationists focus their work to save these remarkable creatures and their habitat.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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