224 New Species Discoveries in the Greater Mekong Region

Posted on 26 January 2022

Conservation organisation urges protection from shrinking habitats and exploitation
00:01 GMT, 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. With many of the species already under threat of extinction from habitat loss, deforestation, and illegal wildlife trade, WWF is calling on governments in the region to increase protection for these rare, amazing creatures. 

The report documents the work of hundreds of scientists from universities, conservation organisations and research institutes around the world who discovered 155 plants, 16 fishes, 17 amphibians, 35 reptiles and one mammal in the Greater Mekong region, comprising Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. This brings the total number of vascular plants, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals described 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 described. They require our greatest respect, utmost attention and urgent actions to protect their habitats and minimise exploitation.”

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 and was first identified in the form of a 100-year-old museum specimens 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 and emits a pungent odor. It’s 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 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.

These discoveries, painstakingly identified and recorded by keen naturalists and taxonomists, 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. 

In his foreword to the report, Dr. Thomas Ziegler, Curator for Herpetology, Ichthyology and Invertebrates with the Zoological Garden Cologne, noted the extreme threats faced by these species, and stated that “to record this treasure trove of biodiversity before it is completely lost, we must accelerate our work and strengthen international cooperation.”
“The Covid-19 crisis has made it very clear that humans cannot intervene in nature, its networks, food chains and biodiversity with impunity,” he adds. “We must all learn to be more careful and coexist with all the other creatures on our planet, instead of just exploiting and extirpating them.”


For further information, the full report and photos/video: 
Mia Signs, mia.signs@wwfgreatermekong.org +856 (0)20 5847 6526 
or Lee Poston, lee.poston@gmail.com +1-202-891-9928, 

Website: www.panda.org/greatermekong

Notes to Editors:
  • 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
Tylototriton phukhaensis, Doi Phu Kha newt, discovered in Doi Phu Kha National Park, Nan province, Thailand.
© Porrawee Pomchote
Popa langur camera trap photo, taken in North Zamari Wildlife Sanctuary, Myanmar.
© WWF-Myanmar
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