WWF Report Reveals 26 New Species Discovered in Myanmar, Hundreds Across Greater Mekong

Posted on 05 June 2014    
Dendrelaphis nigroserratus, Sawtooth-Necked Bronzeback.
Like most wildlife in the Greater Mekong, Dendrelaphis nigroserratus (also known as the Sawtooth-necked Bronzeback), from Thailand and Myanmar, is under threat from increasing habitat destruction.
© Sjon Hauser
Yangon – A giant flying squirrel, a skydiving gecko, a fish that mates head-to-head, and an eyeless cave-dwelling spider are among the 367 new species revealed by scientists in the Greater Mekong region in 2012-2013, including 26 new species in Myanmar. The new species are described in WWF’s new report, Mysterious Mekong.

WWF released the report on World Environment Day, highlighting creatures both bizarre and beautiful. The 26 Myanmar species include 14 plants, seven fish, four amphibians and one reptile. Of particular interest are a new species of dragonfish with striking and complex maze-like markings on each individual scale; a species of ginger plant found in western Myanmar’s Rakhine Yoma cloud forests above the Bay of Bengal; a catfish from a tributary of the mighty Irrawaddy River with a unique flame-shaped “suction cup” on its throat; and a Tanintharyi stream toad with bumpy, chocolate-coloured skin and long, slender limbs.

Another fascinating species that was discovered in Thailand but also occurs in Myanmar is a brightly coloured bronzeback snake, commonly called the Sawtooth-Necked Bronzeback. Discovered in southern Thailand’s Kaeng Krachan National Park (which borders Myanmar), the snake was in the middle of consuming a Wallace’s Flying Frog. It is usually found in hilly evergreen forests but is absent in deforested areas, underscoring the need to further explore the region’s hilly forests and protect areas of high biodiversity.

“These species discoveries affirm that the Greater Mekong is truly one of the world’s richest and most biologically diverse regions,” said Michelle Owen, WWF-Myanmar Conservation Programme Manager. “The fact that 26 species were discovered in relatively unexplored Myanmar highlights the urgent need to invest in conservation and ensure biodiversity is considered as part of a sustainable and green development approach.”

Another new species found in Kaeng Krachan National Park is a parachute gecko (Ptychozoon kaengkrachanense). The camouflage-patterned gecko extends flaps of skin on its flanks and between its toes to help it glide down from branch to tree trunk.

“Kaeng Krachan National Park and the forests across the border in Myanmar are some of the least explored areas in Southeast Asia,” Owen added. “This landscape is the beating heart for species recovery in Thailand and Myanmar, and Kaeng Krachan is home to one of the world’s most important tiger populations. These new discoveries confirm the importance of conservation efforts by WWF and partners in this awe-inspiring and ecologically important landscape.”

Several species from across the Greater Mekong are highlighted in the report, including a new species of flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus laoensis), discovered based on a single animal collected from a bush meat market in Laos. With its distinctive red and white fur, the Laotian giant flying squirrel is also the first record of the genus from Southeast Asia.

In Cambodia, a new warbler was found hiding in plain sight in the capital Phnom Penh. The Cambodian Tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk) was first spotted in 2009 during routine checks for avian flu. Subsequent tests — from the bird’s plumage to its song and genes — formally identified O. chaktomuk as a new species. In Vietnam, Griffin’s leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros griffini) is recognised by its grotesque, fleshy nose that assists in echolocation, the sonar-like ability bats use to help them navigate. Also discovered in Vietnam is a tiny, almost transparent, fish with a very complex anatomy. Phallostethus cuulong bears its sex organs just behind its mouth. It mates head-to-head, with the male using its "priapium" to hook onto the female.

Among the 21 new amphibian species documented in the report is Helen’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus helenae), discovered less than 100 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The huge green frog managed to evade biologists until recently by gliding between treetops — using its large, webbed hands and feet — and only coming down to breed in rain pools. Helen’s Flying Frog was found in a patch of forest surrounded by agricultural land, highlighting the urgent need for conservation in lowland forests.

In a cave in Laos, Dr Peter Jäger discovered a new species of huntsman spider (Sinopoda scurion), the first of its kind in the world without any eyes. The regression of the spider’s eyes is attributable to living permanently without daylight.

“These amazing discoveries underscore the urgent need for further exploration and conservation across the Greater Mekong, but especially here in Myanmar,” said Dr. Khin Ni Ni Thein, Country Director, WWF-Myanmar. “There are potentially thousands of new species yet to be discovered in Myanmar’s rich forests, rivers and oceans. We need to ensure they are identified and their habitat protected before it is too late.”

Mysterious Mekong spotlights 15 species newly identified by science among the 290 plants, 24 fish, 21 amphibians, 28 reptiles, 3 mammals and 1 bird all formally described as new species in 2012-2013 from the Greater Mekong. This region spans Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s south-western Yunnan province. Since 1997, an incredible 2077 new species have been newly described by science in the Greater Mekong.
Dendrelaphis nigroserratus, Sawtooth-Necked Bronzeback.
Like most wildlife in the Greater Mekong, Dendrelaphis nigroserratus (also known as the Sawtooth-necked Bronzeback), from Thailand and Myanmar, is under threat from increasing habitat destruction.
© Sjon Hauser Enlarge

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