SE Asia: Mekong River’s new specie discovery at 2 per week for a decade

Striped rabbits, bright pink millipedes laced with cyanide and a
spider bigger than a dinner plate are among a host of new species
discovered in a remote wildlife hotspot. The Greater Mekong is
described as one of the last scientifically unexplored regions of the
world and it abounds in life seen nowhere else in the world. So little
is known about the ecology of the region that previously unknown
animals and plants have been turning up at a rate of two a week for a
decade. The Greater Mekong comprises 600,000 square kilometres of
wetlands and rainforest along 4,500km of the Mekong River in Cambodia,
Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and China. Wars, internal problems and
the remoteness of the region kept most international scientists away
for decades but in the 1990s it began to be surveyed extensively for
its wildlife. At least 1,068 new species were identified in the Greater
Mekong from 1997 to 2007 along with several thousand tiny
invertebrates. Annamite striped rabbits, Nesolagus timminsi, with
black and brown fur, were discovered in Vietnam and Laos in 2000 and
are only the second species of striped rabbit to be identified. The
other is in Sumatra, the two sharing a common ancestor that lived
several million years ago.

Among the most bizarre to be discovered was
a hot-pink, spiny dragon millipede, Desmoxytes purpurosea. Several
were found simultaneously in Thailand as they crawled over limestone
rocks and palm leaves. To defend themselves from predators the
millipedes have glands that produce cyanide. Scientists believe that
the shocking-pink colouration is to signal to predators that they
would make a fatal snack. “They would do well to heed this warning,”
concluded a WWF report on the Greater Mekong discoveries. A huntsman
spider, named Heteropoda maxima, measured 30cm across and was found in
caves in Laos. It was described as the “most remarkable” of 88 new
species of spider located in Laos, Thailand and the Yunnan province of
China. Thomas Ziegler, curator at Cologne Zoo, was among the
researchers to explore the Greater Mekong. “It is a great feeling
being in an unexplored area and to document its biodiversity for the
first time, both enigmatic and beautiful,” he said. The discoveries
documented in the WWF report First Contact in the Greater Mekong,
published today, include 519 plants, 15 mammals, 89 frogs, 279 fish,
46 lizards, 22 snakes, 4 birds, 4 turtles and 2 salamanders. Stuart
Chapman, the director of WWF’s Greater Mekong program, said: “We
thought discoveries of this scale were confined to the history books.
This reaffirms the Greater Mekong’s place on the world map of
conservation priorities.”,25197,24800999-2703,00.html

Posted via email from Deane’s posterous

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