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Is this the new missing link?

An Indo-British team of scientists has made a unique discovery in the Western Ghats — an amphibian whose offspring develop as foetuses inside the body, instead of within eggs, reports Aditya Ghosh.

india Updated: Sep 13, 2008 00:28 IST
Aditya Ghosh

An Indo-British team of scientists has made a unique discovery in the Western Ghats — an amphibian whose offspring develop as foetuses inside the body, instead of within eggs. It is the first ‘viviparous’ (those that do not lay eggs) creature to be found in Asia.

The discovery could help explain how reptiles evolved into mammals.

Another peculiar characteristic of the legless amphibian, named Gegeneophis seshachari, is that its newborns eat their mother’s skin instead of drinking milk.

A study of the amphibian has been published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, by David Gower of London’s Natural History Museum, Varad Giri of the Bombay Natural History Society, and Mahesh Dharne and Yogesh Shouche from the National Centre for Cell Science, Pune.

“The new analyses suggest that live-bearing [foetus, instead of eggs] evolved in this type of reptiles independently at least four times from egg-laying ancestors, which is remarkable. This demonstrates that this group of animals can offer a clue to the evolution of reproductive biology,” said Gower.

“The babies of some egg-laying species peel off and eat the enriched outer layer of their mothers’ skin. These animals have specialised teeth that are used for scraping off and eating nutrient-rich layers of their mothers’ oviducts before they are born,” added Giri.

“It will explain how reptiles evolved into mammals,” he said, adding, “Climate and security of the progeny seem to be the main reasons. This species was found in the northern part of the Western Ghats, which is drier, making it difficult for eggs to survive,” he said.