In fact, the chikilidae is harmless, and may even be the farmer's best friend — feasting on worms and insects that might harm crops, and churning the soil as it moves underground.
Much remains to be discovered in further study, Biju said, as many questions remain about how the creatures live.
So far, Biju's team has determined that an adult chikilidae will remain with its eggs until they hatch, forgoing food for some 50 days. When the eggs hatch, the young emerge as tiny adults and squirm away.
They grow to about 4 inches (10 centimeters), and can ram their hard skulls through some of the region's tougher soils, shooting off quickly at the slightest vibration. "It's like a rocket," Biju said. "If you miss it the first try, you'll never catch it again."
A possibly superfluous set of eyes is shielded under a layer of skin, and may help the chikilidae gauge light from dark as in other caecilian species.
DNA testing suggests the chikilidae's closest relative is in Africa — with the two evolutionary paths splitting some 140 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed what was then a southern supercontinent called Gondwana, since separated into today's continents of Africa, Antarctica, Australia, South America and the Indian subcontinent.
Biju's team worked best during monsoon season, when the digging is easier and chikilidae lay eggs in waterlogged soils. Gripping garden spades with blistered hands, the researchers along with locals they hired spent about 2,600 man hours digging for the elusive squigglers, usually found about 16 inches (40 centimeters) deep.
"It was backbreaking work," said research fellow Rachunliu Kamei, who even passed out in the forest once, and some days found not even one specimen.
"But there is motivation in knowing this is an uncharted frontier," said Kamei, lead researcher and main author of the study paper.
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