Scientists have discovered more than 1,000 new species living in a remote region of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos called the Greater Mekong. The species were found during a decade-long mission detailed for the first time today in a report just issued by the World Wildlife Foundation, “First Contact in the Greater Mekong.” The report is the result of a decade-long mission that ended last year.
(Note: Click on any of the images throughout the story to enlarge them. Hover your mouse over the images to see the species’ name.)
Heteropoda Maxima: The Huntsman Spider
Among the finds is a spider called the Heteropoda Maxima — a creature the size of a dinner plate. The Heteropoda Maxima is considered a huntsman spider. When its legs are fully extended, the spider is a full 11.8 inches long, making it one of the largest ever documented worldwide. In all, 88 new species of spiders were found in the Greater Mekong.
Desmoxytes Purpurosea: The Dragon Millipede
Another standout species from the exploration is the Desmoxytes purpurosea, or dragon millipede. The thing is bright pink and lined with poison-producing glands. The striking color, scientists believe, serves as a warning to potential predators to stay away.
Annamite Striped Rabbit and Laotian Rock Rat
Other discoveries include the Annamite Striped Rabbit, or Nesolagus timminsi — only the second such species to ever be seen — and the Laotian rock rat, previously believed to have been extinct for 11 million years. In all, 1,068 new species were observed.
Laotian Rock Rat Video
Greater Concern For Greater Mekong
The finds are more than just curiosities. The WWF is using its report to raise awareness of the need to save the land, calling it a “major global hotspot for biodiversity, a treasure.”
“Scientists keep peeling back the layers and uncovering more and more wildlife wonders,” says Dekila Chungyalpa, director of the WWF’s Greater Mekong Program.
The group fears an ongoing industrial movement in the region will lead to new construction and thus resulting destruction of the species. Years of war had kept scientists from exploring the region for years. Now, the WWF wants to form a cross-border agreement with governments in the Greater Mekong region to protect the newly discovered species, as well as other rare animals in the area.
In all, the WWF found 519 plants, 279 fish, 88 frogs, 88 spiders, 46 lizards, 22 snakes, 15 mammals, four birds, four turtles, two salamanders and a toad.
“This region is like what I read about as a child in the stories of Charles Darwin,” says Cologne Zoo Curator Dr Thomas Ziegler. “It is a great feeling being in an unexplored area and to document its biodiversity for the first time… both enigmatic and beautiful.”
More Greater Mekong Video
All images and video courtesy World Wildlife Foundation.