ASIAN ANIMALS AND BIODIVERSITY IN ASIA
Scientists sometimes break down the world’s animals into Old World animals — those from Asia, Africa and Europe — and New World animals — those from North and South America. Australia, New Zealand and many islands have their own species.
The Old World and New World designations have traditionally been used mostly to describe monkeys but has also been used for other animal groupings. Some Old World species are found over large areas of Asia, Africa and Europe. Most are found only in certain regions. Old World species within an animal grouping tend to be more closely related to each other than to New World species in the same grouping.
Until man began transporting animals around the globe the only way that animals could move between the Old and New Worlds was by walking across the Bering Strait or the Arctic or by swimming or floating on some flotsam across the sea. By contrast, Old World animals could move easily overland between Asia, Africa and Europe, which explains in part why Old World species are more closely related to each other than they are to their New World counterparts.
Book: “Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia” (Macmillian).
Alfred Russell Wallace and Wallace Line
The Wallace Line is an invisible biological barrier described by and named after the British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace. Running along the water between the Indonesia islands of Bali and Lombok and between Borneo and Sulawesi, it separates the species found in Australia, New Guinea and the eastern islands of Indonesia from those found in western Indonesia, the Philippines and the Southeast Asia.
Because of the Wallace Line Asian animals such as elephants, orangutans and tigers never ventured further east than Bali, and Australian animals such as kangaroos, emus, cassowaries, wallabies and cockatoos never made it to Asia. Animals from both continents are found in some parts of Indonesia.
Wallace also came up with the idea of the Wallace Line, an invisible biological barrier described by and named after the British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace. Running along the water between the Indonesia islands of Bali and Lombok and between Borneo and Sulawesi, it separates the species found in Australia, New Guinea and the eastern islands of Indonesia from those found in western Indonesia, the Philippines and the Southeast Asia. Because of the Wallace Line Asian animals such as elephants, orangutans and tigers never ventured further east than Bali, and Australian animals such as kangaroos, emus, cassowaries, wallabies and cockatoos never made it to Asia. Animals from both continents are found in some parts of Indonesia.
Wallace came up with the idea of a dividing line for animals after conducting surveys in the 1850s in Borneo and Sulawesi, where he was struck by how different the wildlife was on the two islands despite their close proximity to one another and their similar climates and geography. His letters to Darwin on the subject prompted Darwin to take a look as his own travels and make similar observations on some of the places he visited. In 1859 Wallace expanded on his observations and drew a line between Borneo and Bali to the west and Sulawesi and Lombok to the east and theorized that areas to the west — including the islands of Indonesia the Philippines — were part of a great Asian landmass and areas to east were connected to a greater Australian landmass, with Sulawesi containing elements of both the Asian and Australian landmass.
Studies of geology, ice ages and rising and falling sea levels conducted after Wallace’s death — that among other things that Indonesia, the Philippines and the Southeast Asia were all connected by land bridges when sea levels dropped during ice ages — proved that his theories were largely correct. Further studies on the matter placed the furthest extent of Australian type fauna further east between the Moluccas and Timor.
Alfred Russell Wallace
Alfred Russell Wallace Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913) developed a theory of evolution the same time as Darwin but failed to win the same recognition as Darwin. He made a historic journey through Malaysia, Borneo and Spice Islands about 20 years after Darwin made his voyage in the Beagle. Wallace was a much more colorful character than Darwin. He was one of nine children in a poor family and dropped out of school at fourteen. His interest in the natural sciences blossomed during beetle-hunting expeditions with a close friend.
Wallace spent fours years collecting specimens in the Amazon. He wrote a paper entitled On Monkeys in the Amazon but lost his specimens when the ship he was on caught fire and sunk on the voyage back to Europe. Later in life he became a vocal supporter of women's rights and was a firm believer in Spiritualism. He disputed a theory that the canals on the planet Mars were used by irrigation in his treatise “Is Mars Habitable?”
Wallace was a professional specimen collector. He spent much of his life far from civilization, in remote jungles and isolated islands. He collected 125,000 species of flora and fauna, many of them new to science, during his five years in Amazon basin and eight years traveling alone in Indonesia. The idea of survival of the fittest came to him while he was suffering from a malaria fit. Austen Layard, a contemporary of Wallace, said "one of the results of fever is a considerable excitement of the brain."
See Separate Article LINNAEUS, DARWIN AND ALFRED WALLACE, ANIMAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND EVOLUTION factsanddetails.com
Sundaland Biodiversity Hotspot
The Sundaland region, which include peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali, has been designated a biodiversity hotspot designated by Conservation International. According to the Conservation International website: “The spectacular flora and fauna of the Sundaland Hotspot are succumbing to the explosive growth of industrial forestry in these islands and to the international animal trade that claims tigers, monkeys, and turtle species for food and medicine in other countries. Populations of the orangutan, found only in this hotspot, are in dramatic decline. Some of the last refuges of two Southeast Asia rhino species are also found on the islands of Java and Sumatra. Like many tropical areas, the forests are being cleared for commercial uses. Rubber, oil palm, and pulp production are three of the most detrimental forces facing biodiversity in the Sundaland Hotspot.[Source: Conservation International website]
Data: 2) Hotspot Original Extent (km²): 1,501,063; 2) Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km²): 100,571; 3) Endemic Plant Species: 15,000; 4) Endemic Threatened Birds: 43; 5) Endemic Threatened Mammals : 60; 6) Endemic Threatened Amphibians; 59; 7) Extinct Species: 4; 8) Human Population Density (people/km²): 153; 9) Area Protected (km²) 179,723; 10) Area Protected (km²) in Categories I-IV 77,408.
The Sundaland hotspot covers the western half of the Indo-Malayan archipelago, an arc of some 17,000 equatorial islands, and is dominated by two of the largest islands in the world: Borneo (725,000 km²) and Sumatra (427,300 km²). More than a million years ago, the islands of Sundaland were connected to mainland Asia. As sea levels changed during the Pleistocene, this connection periodically disappeared, eventually leading to the current isolation of the islands. The topography of the hotspot ranges from the hilly and mountainous regions of Sumatra and Borneo, where Mt. Kinabalu rises to 4,101 meters, to the fertile volcanic soils of Java and Bali, the former dominated by 23 active volcanoes. Granite and limestone mountains rising to 2,189 meters are the backbone of the Malay Peninsula.
Politically, Sundaland covers a small portion of southern Thailand (provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat); nearly all of Malaysia (nearly all of Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah in northern Borneo); Singapore at the tip of the Malay Peninsula; all of Brunei Darussalam; and all of the western half of the megadiversity country of Indonesia, including Kalimantan (the Indonesian portion of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali). The Nicobar Islands, which are under Indian jurisdiction, are also included.
Sundaland is bordered by three hotspots. The boundary between the Sundaland Hotspot and the Indo-Burma Hotspot to the northwest is here taken as the Kangar-Pattani Line, which crosses the Thailand-Malaysia border. Wallacea lies immediately to the east of the Sundaland Hotspot, separated by the famous Wallace’s Line, while the 7,100 islands of the Philippines Hotspot lie immediately to the northeast.
Lowland rainforests are dominated by the towering trees of the family Dipterocarpaceae. Sandy and rocky coastlines harbor stands of beach forest, while muddy shores are lined with mangrove forests, replaced inland by large peat swamp forests. In some places, ancient uplifted coral reefs support specialized forests tolerant of the high levels of calcium and magnesium in these soils. Infertile tertiary sandstone ridges support heath forest. Higher elevations boast montane forests thick with moss, lichens, and orchids, while further up, scrubby subalpine forests are dominated by rhododendrons. At the very tops of the highest mountain peaks, the land is mostly rocky and without much vegetation.
Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot
The Indo-Burma region, which includes far-east India, far-southern China and most of mainland Southeast Asia excluding the Malaysian peninsula, has been designated a biodiversity hotspot designated by Conservation International. According to the Conservation International website: Indo-Burma is still revealing its biological treasures. Six large mammal species have been discovered in the last 12 years: the large-antlered muntjac, the Annamite muntjac, the grey-shanked douc, the Annamite striped rabbit, the leaf deer, and the saola. This hotspot also holds remarkable endemism in freshwater turtle species, most of which are threatened with extinction, due to over-harvesting and extensive habitat loss. Bird life in Indo-Burma is also incredibly diverse, holding almost 1,300 different bird species, including the threatened white-eared night-heron, the grey-crowned crocias, and the orange-necked partridge. [Source: Conservation International website]
Indo-Burma (Southeast Asia) has been designated a biological hot spot because it is rich in unique wildlife and plant life but also threatened by the encroachment of people. Data: 1) Hotspot Original Extent (km²): 2,373,057; 2) Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km²): 118,653; 3) Endemic Plant Species: 7,000; 4) Endemic Threatened Birds: 18; 5) Endemic Threatened Mammals: 25; 6) Endemic Threatened Amphibians: 35 ; 7) Extinct Species: 1; 8) Human Population Density (people/km²): 134 ; 9) Area Protected (km²): 235,758; 10) Area Protected (km²) in Categories I-IV: 132,283.
The Indo-Burma hotspot encompasses 2,373,000 km² of tropical Asia east of the Ganges-Brahmaputra lowlands. Formerly including the Himalaya chain and the associated foothills in Nepal, Bhutan and India, the Indo-Burma hotspot has now been more narrowly redefined as the Indo-Chinese subregion. The hotspot contains the Lower Mekong catchment. It begins in eastern Bangladesh and then extends across north-eastern India, south of the Bramaputra River, to encompass nearly all of Myanmar, part of southern and western Yunnan Province in China, all of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia and Vietnam, the vast majority of Thailand and a small part of Peninsular Malaysia. In addition, the hotspot covers the coastal lowlands of southern China (in southern Guangxi and Guangdong), as well as several offshore islands, such as Hainan Island (of China) in the South China Sea and the Andaman Islands (of India) in the Andaman Sea. The hotspot containes the Lower Mekong catchment.
The transition to the Sundaland Hotspot in the south occurs on the Thai-Malay Peninsula, the boundary between the two hotspots is represented by the Kangar-Pattani Line, which cuts across the Thailand-Malaysia border, though some analyses indicate that the phytogeographical and zoogeographical transition between the Sundaland and Indo-Burma biotas may lie just to the north of the Isthmus of Kra, associated with a gradual change from wet seasonal evergreen dipterocarp rainforest to mixed moist deciduous forest.
Much of Indo-Burma is characterized by distinct seasonal weather patterns. During the northern winter months, dry, cool winds blow from the stable continental Asian high-pressure system, resulting in a dry period under clear skies across much of the south, center, and west of the hotspot (the dry, northeast monsoon). As the continental system weakens in spring, the wind direction reverses and air masses forming the southwest monsoon pick up moisture from the seas to the southwest and bring abundant rains as they rise over the hills and mountains.
A wide diversity of ecosystems is represented in this hotspot, including mixed wet evergreen, dry evergreen, deciduous, and montane forests. There are also patches of shrublands and woodlands on karst limestone outcrops and, in some coastal areas, scattered heath forests. In addition, a wide variety of distinctive, localized vegetation formations occur in Indo-Burma, including lowland floodplain swamps, mangroves, and seasonally inundated grasslands.
Southeast Asian Rain Forest at Night
Tim Laman wrote in National Geographic: “As the day's last light paints the tropical sky, I perch on the side of a cliff on Khao Luk Chang (Baby Elephant Mountain) in Thailand. A few feet in front of me thousands of wrinkled-lipped bats stream out of their cave. Soon they will fan out and gorge on insects in the forest below. Human eyes that work so well during the day are of little use in this world. Out here, hosts of species are supremely adapted for making a living in the dark. Bats with their sonar, tarsiers with their acute hearing and night vision, and civets with their exquisite sense of smell are just a few examples. I wish my senses were a match for these nocturnal creatures. Though limited to my human perception, I do get a little help from technology. With headlamps, strobes, infrared camera traps, and night-vision scopes in my arsenal, I head off into the rain forest after dark. It's as rich in life as it is by day but with an almost completely different cast of characters. [Source: Tim Laman, National Geographic. October 2001]
“I have photographed creatures of the night in rain forests across tropical Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. African and South American rain forests host a similarly rich assortment of little-known inhabitants. Of these three equatorial regions, Asia is losing its forests the fastest and has the fewest remaining. In Indonesia alone, illegal logging has led to what one scientific report called a "biological catastrophe."Whether I am strolling along a forest track, where I spotted this spiky caterpillar chomping on a wild ginger leaf, or making an exploratory night climb with colleagues into the top of Borneo's forest canopy of dipterocarp trees, the night has many surprises in store for me. Few people have ever experienced them, and unless we protect enough pristine forest, few ever will. If we act quickly to preserve what remains, generations to come will still be able to appreciate the wonders of the rain forest's night shift.
“What goes in must come out, but rarely does animal waste look so graceful. This plant hopper nymph feeds on plant juices with a tubelike mouth. The long fibers that appear to form a tail are the waxy residue of sugars discharged after the hopper extracts nutrients from sap. Glands arranged like a spaghetti press push out the filaments, composed of microscopic hollow tubes. These filaments may deter predators, or they may simply break away if a predator tries to grab the false tail. Whether they have tricky defenses or not, many insects find that night is the safest time. A dragonfly uses the cover of darkness to emerge from its larval skin and dry its wings. It will be able to fly by morning, but several days will pass before its body fully hardens and develops characteristic bright colors.
“The night is a time for carnivores of many tastes. As odd as its name, the moonrat is not really a rat but part of the hedgehog family. Although some are black with white markings, those found on Borneo are predominantly white. Their conspicuous coloring and bad odor advertise a repulsive taste to predators, so they are often left alone to hunt for earthworms, insects, and snails amid the leaf litter. The cat snake, one of hundreds of kinds of snakes active mostly at night, moves through low vegetation to hunt frogs and lizards. Asian wild dogs, or dholes, prey on large game such as this sambar deer they killed at the edge of a river in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. Once widespread across Asia, large numbers of these pack-hunting canids have been exterminated by locals, who perceive them as a threat to livestock. They are now reduced to remnant populations even in protected areas.
“Wide eyes blazing in the light of my camera flash, a brown wood owl poises on a forest perch. Excellent night vision helps owls fly through the dark forest, but, like tarsiers, owls also rely on their highly sensitive hearing to detect and capture a variety of prey: small rodents, lizards, frogs, even large insects. Well-camouflaged moths survive the daylight hours by blending in with a background such as dead leaves or bark. By night they use their sense of smell—detectors built into their antennae—to locate mates and food. One evening as I entered the forest, I smelled a heady perfume coming from flowers opening to attract small moths. Like many night-blooming plants, this orchid has pale flowers that are easy to spot in low light. Pollinators home in on the flowers' scent from a distance and then use their vision to make the final approach.
No matter how closely you approach a Bornean horned frog, it won't budge. It acts as if its camouflage makes it invisible, and it very nearly does. Finding one is extremely difficult. In this case the reflection of its eyes in my headlamp beam gave it away. With a mouth as wide as half its body length, the horned frog simply waits for prey to pass by, and a large spider like this leggy tarantula emerging from its webbed retreat would make a fine meal. The Malay civet actively forages for anything edible. A bait of fish lured it to this site in Gunung Palung National Park, Indonesia, where it tripped my remote-controlled camera. Unfortunately Gunung Palung, like many parks in Indonesia, is now being devastated by illegal logging, and there seems to be little political means or will to stop it.
“As long as these forests remain intact, every night walk can reveal new marvels. A snail exploring a leaf performs a nimble pirouette at the tip. Perched on a twig where it can detect a predator's approach, a garnet pitta sleeps through the night. The pitta, like many other diurnal birds, adds insurance while sleeping by fluffing up so much that an attacking snake might get only a mouthful of feathers. On a moonless, overcast night I turn off my headlamp and stand among the towering trees of Borneo's lowland forest. At first it seems as black as the deepest cave, but as my eyes adjust, I see that the forest has some light of its own. Patches of luminescent fungi are visible, and a bright point of light nearby turns out to be a strange beetle larva called a starworm crawling among fallen leaves. Why does the starworm produce its steady glow? Could it be seeking mates? Luring prey? Alerting predators that it is inedible? For now it remains one of the many mysteries of the rain forest at night.
123 New Species Discovered in Borneo in the Late 2000s
In April 2010, CNN reported: “Color-changing frogs, the world's longest stick insect and a slug that shoots "love darts" are among the biological "treasure" discovered by scientists in the lush green heart of Borneo. Scientists have found 123 new species of animals, insects and plants on the South East Asian island since the three governments that control the land signed a pact to safeguard its future in 2007. [Source: Hilary Whiteman, CNN, April 22, 2010]
The new species are on a list released Thursday by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to mark Earth Day and to raise awareness of the value of protecting areas rich in biodiversity. "You have some iconic small species which are very interesting to talk about but perhaps it's the plants that are tremendously important in terms of potential future cures," said David Norman, director of campaigns for the WWF. "About half of all synthetic drugs have a natural origin -- these are commercial drugs based on plants and sometimes animals. So we can't afford to lose species," he said.
The number of new plant species discovered in Borneo in the last three years outnumbers all the other categories combined. Sixty-seven new plants have been found, along with 29 invertebrates, 17 new species of fish, one bird, five amphibians and five reptiles. The WWF describes the region as a "global treasure teeming with unique and extraordinary life."
Some of the more unusual amphibians found there include color-changing frogs, which also fly. Males of the species (Rhacophorus penanorum) are just 3.5 centimeters long and their skin changes from bright green during the night to brown during the day. They can be found living in trees in the Tapin Valley within the Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak. Their fully-webbed feet allow them to glide for up to 15 meters from tree branch to tree branch.
The world's longest-stick insect (Phobaeticus chani) is more than half a meter long and lives high up in the rainforest canopy. "Only three specimens have ever been discovered. It's quite extraordinary that it's been there for so long -- you wouldn't miss it if it landed on you," Norman said. The tail of the long-tailed slug (Ibycus rachelae) is three-times the length of its head, allowing it to curl up to sleep. More unusually, when it mates the slug fires a so-called "love dart" made of calcium carbonate that injects a hormone into its prospective partner to increase the chances of reproduction.
52 New Species Discovered in Borneo in the Mid 2000s
Eliane Engeler of Associated Press wrote in December 2006: “Scientists have discovered at least 52 new species of animals and plants on the southeast Asian island of Borneo since 2005, including a catfish with protruding teeth and suction cups on its belly to help it stick to rocks, WWF International said. "The more we look the more we find," said Stuart Chapman, WWF International coordinator for the study of the "Heart of Borneo," a 85,000-square-mile rain forest in the center of the island where several of the new species were found. "These discoveries reaffirm Borneo's position as one of the most important centers of biodiversity in the world." [Source: Eliane Engeler, The Associated Press, December 19, 2006]
Much of Borneo, which is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and the sultanate of Brunei, is covered by one of the world's last remaining rain forests. The discoveries bring the total number of species newly identified on the island to more than 400 since 1996, according to WWF. Other creatures discovered between July 2005 and September 2006 were six Siamese fighting fish, whose unique colors and markings distinguish them from close relatives, and a tree frog with bright green eyes. The catfish, which can be identified by its pretty color pattern, is named glyptothorax exodon, a reference to the teeth that can be seen even when the its mouth is closed. The suction cups on its belly enable it to stick to smooth stones while facing the current of Indonesia's turbulent Kapuas River system.
On the Malaysian part of the island, slow-flowing blackwater streams and peat swamps are home to the paedocypris micromegethes, which is 0.35 inch long. The creature, which gets its name from the Greek words for children and small, is tinier than all other vertebrate species on Earth except for its slightly more minuscule cousin, a 0.31-inch-long fish found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, according to WWF.
The discoveries further highlight the need to conserve the habitat and species of Borneo, where the rain forest continues to be threatened by rubber, palm oil and pulp production, WWF said. "The remote and inaccessible forests in the Heart of Borneo are one of the world's final frontiers for science, and many new species continue to be discovered here," said Chapman. He added that the forests were also vital because they were the source the island's major rivers acting as a natural break to fires burning in the lowlands this year.
Jane Smart, who heads the World Conservation Union's species program, said the discovery of 52 species within a year in Borneo was a "realistic" number given that scientists guess there are about 15 million species on Earth. "There are still many more species that remain to be discovered there," she said.Borneo is particularly important for biodiversity because the island has a high number of endemic species, creatures which only occur in that one place, she told The Associated Press. "So if you wipe out a small area, you're going to wipe out a lot of the species' habitat," she said, adding that once these creatures are destroyed, they are gone forever. "This is a real concern when forests are ripped out for rubber plantations or oil palm plantations," Smart said.
Pea-Sized Frog Found in Borneo
In April 2010, Associated Press reported: “One of the world's tiniest frogs — barely larger than a pea — has been found living in and around carnivorous plants in Borneo, one of the scientists who made the accidental discovery said. Indraneil Das, a scientist at University Malaysia Sarawak, and another scientist from Germany were researching frogs in Malaysia's Sarawak state on Borneo island when they chanced upon the tiny species on a mountain road in the Kubah National Park in 2006. "For biologists, this is a curiosity," Das told Associated Press. [Source: Associated Press, August 26, 2010]
Adult males of the amphibians range in size between 10.6mm and 12.8mm, said Das. The frogs were named Microhyla nepenthicola after the pitcher plant species where they live. A Malaysian museum had listed the species but misidentified it as a juvenile of another frog species, he said. The tubular plants are carnivorous, killing insects such as ants, but do not harm the frogs. Tadpoles grow in the liquid inside the plants. The findings were published (pdf) by Das and Alexander Haas of the Biozentrum Grindel und Zoologisches Museum of Hamburg, Germany in the journal Zootaxa last week.
Because the frogs were so small, Das and his colleague only found them by tracking their singing of "harsh rasping notes" at dusk. They caught them by making them jump on a white cloth near the pitcher plants. The discovery should encourage efforts to protect the biological diversity in Borneo's rainforests. Das said the tiniest known frog — at 9.8mm — found was in Cuba. A 8.5-millimeter frog species found in southern Papua new Guinea was named not only the world’s small frog, but the world’s smallest vertabrate, in 2012.
World's Longest Insect Found in Borneo
Raphael G. Satter of AP wrote: Nearly the length of a human arm, a recently identified stick bug from the island of Borneo is the world's longest insect, British scientists. The specimen was found by a local villager and handed to Malaysian amateur naturalist Datuk Chan Chew Lun in 1989, according to Philip Bragg, who formally identified the insect in this month's issue of peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa. The insect was named Phobaeticus chani, or "Chan's megastick," in Chan's honor. [Source: Raphael G. Satter, Ap, October 16, 2008]
Paul Brock, a scientific associate of the Natural History Museum in London unconnected to the animal's discovery said there was no doubt it was the longest extant insect ever found. Looking more like a solid shoot of bamboo than its smaller, frailer cousins, the dull-green insect measures about 22 inches (56.7 centimeters), if its delicate, twig-like legs are counted. There are 14 inches (35.7 centimeters) from the tip of its head to the bottom of its abdomen, beating the previous record body length, held by Phobaeticus kirbyi, also from Borneo, by about an inch (2.9 centimeters).
Stick bugs, also known as phasmids, have some of the animal kingdom's cleverest camouflage. Although some phasmids use noxious sprays or prickly spines to deter their predators, generally the bugs assume the shape of sticks and leaves to avoid drawing attention. "Their main defense is basically hanging around, looking like a twig," Brock said. "It will even sway in the wind."
For Bragg, who works as a schoolteacher and catalogues stick bugs as a hobby, the discovery showed the urgency of conservation work. "There aren't enough specialists around to work on all the insects in the world," he said. "There's going to be stuff that's extinct before anyone gets around to describing it." The Phobaeticus chani is now a part of the Natural History Museum's "Creepy Crawlies" gallery.
Chameleon Snake Found in Borneo
In June 2006, the BBC reported: “A snake with the ability to change its colour has been found in the rainforested heart of Borneo. Researchers from Germany and the US discovered the water snake's chameleon-like behaviour by accident when they put it into a dark bucket. It believes the newly described snake may exist only in one river basin. [Source: BBC, June 25, 2006]
Found in the Kapuas river in the Betung Kerihun National Park in Kalimantan (the Indonesian portion of Borneo), it belongs to the Enhydris genus of rear-fanged water snakes and has been named E. gyii. It is about 50cm (18 inches) long, and venomous. “The discovery of the 'chameleon" snake exposes one of nature's best kept secrets deep in the heart of Borneo,” Stuart Chapman of the WWF said.
The new species was described by Mark Auliya from the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, and John Murphy and Harold Voris from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.It was Dr Auliya, a consultant for WWF, who discovered serendipitously its colour-changing capacity. "I put the reddish-brown snake in a dark bucket," he said. "When I retrieved it a few minutes later, it was almost entirely white."
The reasons why it has evolved this attribute are unclear. The chameleon, possibly the animal kingdom's most famous colour-changer, is believed to alter its hue depending on mood and temperature. In the last 10 years, more than 350 new animal and plant species have been discovered on Borneo. The WWF warns that the home of the new snake is threatened, as Borneo's forest cover has declined from 75 percent in the mid-1980s to about 50 percent today.
"Elvis" Monkey and Psychedelic Gecko Among 208 New Mekong Species Discovered
December 2011, AP reported: “A psychedelic gecko and a monkey with an "Elvis" hairdo are among 208 new species described last year by scientists in the Mekong River region of Southeast Asia, a conservation group announced. The animals were discovered in a biodiverse region that is threatened by habitat loss, deforestation, climate change and overdevelopment, the WWF said in a report. [Source: AP, December 12, 2011]
“The newly described species include a "psychedelic gecko" in southern Vietnam and a nose-less monkey in a remote province of Myanmar that looks like it wears a pompadour. "While this species, sporting an Elvis-like hairstyle, is new to science, the local people of Myanmar know it well," the Switzerland-based group said in its report. The region is home to some of the world's most endangered species, including tigers, Asian elephants, Mekong dolphins and Mekong giant catfish, the group said.
"This is a region of extraordinary richness in terms of biodiversity but also one that is extremely fragile," said Sarah Bladen, communications director for WWF Greater Mekong. "It's losing biodiversity at a tragic rate."The Mekong flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.In October, WWF announced Vietnam has lost its last Javan rhinoceros, making the 40 to 60 Javan rhinos living in Indonesia the last remaining members of their species.
Reuters reported: The area's diversity is so astonishing that a new species is found every two days, but regional cooperation and decision-making must take centre stage to preserve its richness, the WWF said ched into extinction. "While the 2010 discoveries are new to science, many are already destined for the dinner table, struggling to survive in shrinking habitats and at risk of extinction," said Stuart Chapman, Conservation Director of WWF Greater Mekong, in a statement.[Source: Reuters, December 12, 2011]
Among the new species highlighted in the report "Wild Mekong" is a gecko with bright orange legs, a yellow neck, and a blue-gray body with yellow bars on its bright orange sides, discovered on an island in southern Vietnam. Then there is a black and white snub-nosed monkey whose head sports an Elvis-like hairstyle, found in Myanmar's mountainous Kachin state. Locals say the animal can be spotted with its head between its knees in rainy weather as it tries to keep rain from running into its upturned nose. Other featured creatures among the 208 new finds include a lizard that reproduces via cloning without the need for male lizards, a fish that resembles a gherkin, and five species of carnivorous pitcher plant, some of which lure in and consume rats and even birds.
"Mekong governments have to stop thinking about biodiversity protection as a cost and recognise it as an investment to ensure long-term stability," Chapman said. "The region's treasure trove of biodiversity will be lost if governments fail to invest in the conservation and maintenance of biodiversity, which is so fundamental to ensuring long-term sustainability in the face of global environmental change."
Despite restrictions, trade in wildlife remains an active threat to a range of endangered animals in the region, with some hunted because body parts -- such as rhinoceros horns -- are coveted ingredients in traditional Asian medicine. Others, such as Mekong dolphins, face threats from fishing gear such as gill nets and illegal fishing methods, prompting the WWF in August to warn that one dolphin population in the river was at high risk of extinction.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.
Last updated May 2014