Extraordinary new species discoveries in the Greater Mekong
- Published on Tuesday, 18 December 2012 12:15
- Posted by Vicki Mitchem
A new bat named after its devilish appearance, a subterranean blind fish, a ruby-eyed pit viper, and a frog that sings like a bird are among the 126 species newly identified by scientists in the Greater Mekong region in 2011, and described in a new WWF report, Extra Terrestrial.
Among the ten species highlighted in the report is the aptly named Beelzebub's tube-nosed bat, a diminutive but demonic-looking creature known only from Vietnam. Beelzebub's bat, like two other tube-nosed bats discovered in 2011, depends on tropical forest for its survival and is especially vulnerable to deforestation. In just four decades, 30 per cent of the Greater Mekong's forests have disappeared.
"While the 2011 discoveries affirms the Mekong as a region of astonishing biodiversity, many new species are already struggling to survive in shrinking habitats," said Nick Cox, Manager of WWF-Greater Mekong's Species Programme. "Only by investing in nature conservation, especially protected areas, and developing greener economies, will we see these new species protected and keep alive the hope of finding other intriguing species in years to come."
A new 'walking' catfish species (Clarias gracilentus), discovered in freshwater streams on the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc, can move across land using its pectoral fins to stay upright while it wiggles forward with snake-like movements. And a dazzling miniature fish (Boraras naevus), just 2cm in length, was found in southern Thailand and named after the large dark blotch on its golden body (naevus is Latin for blemish).
A pearly, rose-tinted fish from the carp family was found in the Xe Bangfai catchment, a Mekong River tributary in Central Laos that runs 7km underground through limestone karst. The cave-dwelling Bangana musaei is totally blind and was immediately assessed as vulnerable due to its restricted range.
The Mekong River supports around 850 fish species and the world's most intensive inland fishery. Laos' determination to construct the Xayaburi dam on the mainstream of the Mekong River is a significant threat to the Mekong's extraordinary biodiversity and the productivity of this lifeline through Southeast Asia that supports the livelihoods of over 60 million people.
"The Mekong River supports levels of aquatic biodiversity second only to the Amazon River," added Cox. "The Xayaburi dam would prove an impassable barrier for many fish species, signalling the demise for wildlife already known and as yet undiscovered."
A new species of tree frog discovered in the high-altitude forests of northern Vietnam has a complex call that makes it sound more like a bird than a typical frog. While most male frogs attract females with repetitive croaks, Quang's tree frog spins a new tune each time. No two calls are the same, and each individual mixes clicks, whistles and chirps in a unique order.
When it comes to frogs in the genus Leptobrachium, the eyes have it. Among its more than 20 species, there is a remarkable variety of eye colouration. Leptobrachium leucops, discovered in 2011 in the wet evergreen and cloud forest in Southern Vietnam, is distinguished by its striking black and white eyes.
A staggering array of 21 reptiles was also newly discovered in 2011, including the ruby-eyed green pit viper (Trimeresurus rubeus) in forests near Ho Chi Minh City. This new jewel of the jungle also winds its way along the low hills of southern Vietnam and through eastern Cambodia's Lang Bian Plateau.
A short-tailed python species was found in a streambed in the Kyaiktiyo Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar. The elusive pygmy python (Python kyaiktiyo) has not been found again despite repeated surveys, so little is known of its ecology, distribution or threats. However, the 1.5 metre-long python is likely at risk from threats faced by other pythons, including habitat loss, and illegal hunting for meat, skins, and the exotic pet trade.
"Poaching for the illegal wildlife trade poses one of the greatest threats to the existence of many species across Southeast Asia," added Cox. "To tackle this threat, WWF and TRAFFIC launched a global campaign this year to increase law enforcement, impose strict deterrents and reduce demand for endangered species products."
Extra Terrestrial spotlights 10 species newly identified by science, among the 82 plants, 13 fish, 21 reptiles, 5 amphibians and 5 mammals all discovered in 2011 within the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia that spans Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan. Since 1997, an incredible 1,710 new species were newly described by science in the Greater Mekong.