Site icon Conservation news

Rainbow-headed snake, rare wild banana among 163 new species discovered in Greater Mekong region: WWF

  • The discoveries boost the total number of new species discovered in the Greater Mekong since 1997 to 2,409.
  • The new species include a rainbow-headed snake, a small purple flower with petals resembling mouse ears, a rare species of wild banana and a newt that looks like a Klingon from Star Trek.
  • But the region is also under tremendous pressure from developmental projects and poaching, researchers say, threatening the survival of the rich biodiversity that makes the region unique.

In 2015, scientists discovered 163 new species — nine amphibians, three mammals, 11 fish, 14 reptiles and 126 plants — in the Greater Mekong region, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The new species, which include a rainbow-headed snake, a small purple flower with petals resembling mouse ears, a rare species of wild banana and a newt that looks like a Klingon from Star Trek, were found within deep caves, dense jungles and on remote mountain tops.

These discoveries boost the total number of new species discovered in the Greater Mekong — which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and Yunnan Province, China — to 2,409 since 1997, WWF said.

“The Greater Mekong region is a magnet for the world’s conservation scientists because of the incredible diversity of species that continue to be discovered here,” Jimmy Borah, Wildlife Programme Manager for WWF-Greater Mekong, said in a statement. “These scientists, the unsung heroes of conservation, know they are racing against time to ensure that these newly discovered species are protected.”

A view of the Mekong River at Luang Prabang in Laos. Photo by Allie Caulfield, licensed under CC By 2.0.

The discovery of new species in the Greater Mekong, an important biodiversity hotspot, is good news. But the region is under tremendous pressure from developmental projects as well as poaching, researchers say, threatening the survival of the rich biodiversity that makes the region unique.

The Dawei Road project in Myanmar and Thailand, for example, is proposed to cut through the Dawna Tenasserim Landscape. This landscape, covering more than 63,000 square kilometers of Thailand and Myanmar, is one of the largest and most intact forest ecosystems in Southeast Asia. Similarly, the Don Sahong Dam in Laos, construction of which is already underway, could spell disaster for the rare Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins, other Mekong fish, and the millions of people that depend on the river’s fisheries.

Moreover, collectors willingly shell out thousands of dollars for the “rarest, most unique and most endangered species” from the region, Borah said, fueling their illegal trade. “To save them, it’s crucial that we improve enforcement against poaching and close illegal wildlife markets as well as the tiger and bear farms that openly flaunt wildlife laws,” he added.

Below are five new species that were discovered in the Greater Mekong in 2015:

Rainbow-headed snake (Parafimbrios lao)

The scales on the snake’s head reflect rainbow-like colors. Discovered from the limestone karsts in northern Laos, the species is currently known only from one locality, which is already undergoing changes and destruction, researchers say.

Rainbow-headed snake (Parafimbrios lao). Photo by Alexandre Teynié.

Phuket Horned Tree Agamid (Acanthosaura phuketensis)

This reptile, found in Phuket, Thailand, has numerous “threatening-looking” horns on its head and down its spine. Despite resembling a mini-dragon, the animal is completely harmless, and was seen hunting insects in a tree by scientists when they first encountered it.

Phuket Horned Tree Agamid (Acanthosaura phuketensis). Photo by Montri Sumontha.

Klingon Newt (Tylototriton anguliceps)

Discovered in Thailand, the Klington Newt has striking red and black markings, and is only the fourth newt species found in Thailand till date. The colorful newt, which resembles a Klingon from Star Trek, is vulnerable to pesticide use and deforestation.

Klingon Newt (Tylototriton anguliceps). Photo by Porrawee Pomchote.

New bat (Murina kontumensis)

This bat, with thick and woolly fur on their heads and forearms, was discovered in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The bat’s habitat there is threatened by the effects of deforestation and development, researchers say.

New bat (Murina kontumensis). Photo by Truong Son Nguyen.

Rare wild banana (Musa nanensis)

Found in northern Thailand, this wild banana species has a fluorescent red flower blossom with tiny flower structures different from all other members of the banana family. Scientists have discovered only two small populations of this species till date, and the species is listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List.

Rare wild banana (Musa nanensis). Photo by Wande Inta.