224 New Species Discoveries in the Greater Mekong Region

Posted on 26 January 2022

  • WWF urges governments to take action to combat threats posed by habitat destruction, disease and the illegal wildlife trade
GREATER MEKONG, January 26, 2022 – A monkey named after an extinct volcano, a “stink bug” flower that doubles as a dipping sauce, a knobby newt, and a big-headed frog are  four of the 224 new species discovered by scientists in the Greater Mekong region in 2020, according to a new report released today by WWF.

In total, 155 plants, 16 fishes, 17 amphibians, 35 reptiles and one mammal were discovered in the Greater Mekong region, comprising Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam in 2020. This brings the total number of vascular plants, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals discovered in the Greater Mekong since 1997 to 3,007.

“With over 3,000 new species in the past 24 years, the Greater Mekong region is no doubt a world heavyweight contender for species discoveries,” said K. Yoganand, WWF-Greater Mekong’s regional wildlife lead. “These species are extraordinary, beautiful products of millions of years of evolution, but are under intense threat, with many species going extinct even before they are discovered. They require our greatest respect, utmost attention and urgent actions to protect their habitats and minimise exploitation.”

The report documents the work of hundreds of scientists from universities, conservation organisations and research institutes around the world.

Their discoveries, painstakingly identified and recorded, demonstrate that the region is still a frontline for scientific exploration and a hotspot of species diversity. Many species go extinct before they are even discovered, driven by habitat destruction, diseases spread by human activities, predation and competition brought by invasive species, and the devastating impacts of illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.
Highlights of the report include:
  • An orange-brown knobby newt from Thailand – Tylototriton phukhaensis – has devil horns and a racing stripe. It was originally observed by chance in a 20-year-old photograph from a travel magazine, sparking researchers’ interest in discovering if it still exists.
  • A langur, Trachypithecus popa, is a monkey named after Myanmar’s revered Mount Popa which was first identified in the form of a 100-year-old museum specimen from the UK’s Natural History Museum. With an estimated 200 - 250 in the wild, it is threatened by hunting and habitat loss driven by agricultural encroachment and timber extraction.
  • Amomum foetidum, a plant from the ginger family, was discovered in a plant shop in eastern Thailand. It emits a pungent odor and is often used as a substitute for stink bugs in a popular chili paste.
  • Leptobrachium lunatum is a big-headed frog from Viet Nam and Cambodia that’s threatened by ongoing deforestation and the harvesting of its tadpoles for food. 
  • Thailand’s San Phueng rock gecko – Cnemaspis selenolagus – looks like it has a half-finished paint job. It has yellow-orange on its upper body that abruptly turns grey halfway down its back, allowing it to camouflage itself against the lichen and dry moss on rocks and trees.
  • A newly discovered bamboo species from Laos – Laobambos calcareus – is the first-ever documented case of succulence in bamboos, meaning its stem can inflate and deflate during the dry and wet seasons – critical for survival under different drought conditions.
  • A mulberry tree species from the mountains of southern and central Viet Nam that is related to jackfruit and breadfruit, Artocarpus montanus was first discovered in 70-year-old specimens at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and DNA analysis confirmed it as a new species in 2020.
WWF is calling on governments in the region to increase protection for these rare creatures.

Contact: news@wwfint.org
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Editor’s notes:
  • For further information, the full report can be accessed here. You can also view the launch video here. Photos can be accessed here alongside photo credits. 
  • The species in the report were discovered or described in peer-reviewed journals that were published between January and December 2020.
  • Scientists typically wait to reveal new discoveries until a species is officially described as a new species – a time-consuming process – hence the lag between the initial discovery and announcement for some species spotlighted in the report.
  • This is the latest in a series of reports highlighting new discoveries in the Greater Mekong region. For past reports, go to: http://bit.ly/2yQ6YwW 

About WWF
WWF is an independent conservation organization, with over 30 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit www.panda.org/news for the latest news and media resources and follow us on Twitter @WWF_media.
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© Thomas Calame