Greater Mekong species showing up - and going extinct - at a rapid rate

In the last ten years more than 1000 new species have been discovered in the Greater Mekong region. The new species are the focus of the Wild Mekong report from WWF, demonstrating the unique bio-diversity of the region.

The Greater Mekong region includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan.

But researchers are discovering these species while their habitats come under threat from logging, hunting and human encroachment. Many species are threatened, and extinctions have occurred within the last few decades.

The following are some of the species that have been discovered; photos and captions are courtesy of WWF.

Monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri): While this species, sporting an Elvis-like hairstyle, is new to science, the local people of Myanmar know it well. Scientists first learned of Martin Aveling/Fauna & Flora International
New frog species (Amolops akhaorum): Seven new frog species from the Greater Mekong region were discovered in 2010, including three from Laos, three from Vietnam and one from Thailand. The species Amolops akhaorum was found in Luang Namtha Province, Nam Ha National Protected Area, northwestern Laos. At least nine species of amphibian have gone extinct since 1980, when the most dramatic declines began. Another 113 species have not been reported in the wild in recent years, and are considered possibly extinct. Bryan Stuart

Self-cloning lizard (Leiolepis ngovantrii): A staggering array of reptile diversity was also newly discovered in 2010 - 28 reptiles in total including the newfound Leiolepis ngovantrii - an all-female species that reproduces via cloning, without the need for male lizards. Being all female, the newly discovered species may already be at a disadvantage because of its lack of genetic diversity. Even though it doesn’t seem to be rare in the wild, low levels of genetic diversity could compromise the robustness of the species, making it less resilient to changes in the climate and habitat over time. L. Lee Grismer

Wolf snake (Lycodon synaptor): Among the new reptile discoveries is the wolf snake, Lycodon synaptor or Boehme’s wolf snake, from Dongchuan, a mountainous region of Yunnan Province, China. Wolf snakes are so-called because of their large fangs in both jaws. Wolf snakes are often nocturnal, can grow to lengths of about 50 cm (20 inches), and prey chiefly on frogs, geckos, and other lizards. Vampire
Marcello Catalano
Five Species of Carnivorous Pitcher Plant: Perhaps the most interesting of the new plants are the five species of pitcher plants discovered. Four are from Thailand and one was found in Cambodia. As carnivorous plants, pitchers eat pretty much anything they can entice into their cavernous bellies. Some species of Nepenthes can grow to a maximum height of 100 cm with vines exceeding 25 cm high. Botanical experts say that they can actually lure in and consume small rats, mice, lizards and even birds. Nepenthes andamana is from Phang Nga Province, Thailand, where it grows at sea level in coastal savannah and grassland habitats. Nepenthes holdenii is known to exist on two peaks in the Cardamom Mountains of western Cambodia, where it grows at elevations of 600–800 m above sea level. François Mey

Gherkin fish (Schistura udomritthiruji): A loach that looks like a gherkin was officially described in Southern Thailand. This particular new species, one of 25 new fish discoveries in 2010, is only known to be found in two clear gravel-bed streams flowing into the Andaman Sea between Takua Pa and Ranong. Based on the best available data, experts estimate that the Greater Mekong region is a permanent home to about 850 freshwater fish, with an approximate total of 1,100 including the coastal and marine ‘visitors’ Jörg Bohlen

Psychedelic gecko (Cnemaspis psychedelica): A new psychedelic gecko species was discovered this past year on Hon Khoai Island, Ca Mau Province, Ngoc Hien District, 18 km off the southern tip of the Ca Mu Peninsula in southern Vietnam. The new species is unique in that it displays a remarkable psychedelic pattern of bright orange appendages; a dense, yellow neck overlying thick, black, lines; and a blue-gray body bearing yellow bars on its bright-orange sides. Cnemaspis psychedelica is known only from the tiny (roughly 8 km²) Hon Khoai Island. The island reaches approximately 320m at its highest point, with thick forest cover sloping gently down to a mangrove-lined coast. Scattered across the lowlands of the island are small to massive boulders that provide the habitat for Cnemaspis psychedelica. L. Lee Grismer

Limestone Leaf-Warbler (Phylloscopus Calciatilis): In January 2010, a small, distinctive bird living in the rocky forests of the Annamite mountain range in Laos and Vietnam was described for the first time. it is similar to other warblers in this area of Southeast Asia, except for its distinct vocalizations and slight morphological differences. The tiny bird is greenish-olive with a yellow breast and striped crown. It has a loud and unique call, which is what first alerted the researchers that the bird may be new to science. Ulf Johansson/Swedish Museum of Natural History