Burma Home to 26 New Species Discoveries in 2012-13

SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY| Thursday, June 5, 2014 |
The Irrawaddy 5 Jun 14;

Twenty-six species in Burma are among 367 new species that were discovered by scientists in the Greater Mekong region in 2012-13, according to a new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a non-governmental organization working on wildlife conservation globally.

Michelle Owen, conservation program manager at WWF-Myanmar, told The Irrawaddy, “I hope that this report inspires people in Myanmar to go into environmental science as a profession. Scientists and communities play a crucial role in discovering new species and there is a great opportunity across the country for more species to be found.”

Titled “Mysterious Mekong,” the WWF report was released on Thursday, World Environment Day, “highlighting creatures both bizarre and beautiful” in the Mekong region. Among the 26 species in Burma, there were 14 plants, seven fish, four amphibians and one reptile newly discovered in 2012-13.

“Of particular interest are a new species of dragonfish with striking and complex maze-like markings on each individual scale; a species of ginger plant found in western Myanmar’s Rakhine [Arakan] Yoma cloud forests above the Bay of Bengal; a catfish from a tributary of the mighty Irrawaddy River with a unique flame-shaped ‘suction cup’ on its throat; and a Tanintharyi stream toad with bumpy, chocolate-colored skin and long, slender limbs,” according to a press release accompanying the report.

Owen said the discoveries of these new species affirmed that the Greater Mekong was one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions. The discovery of 26 species in relatively unexplored Burma was testament to the need to invest in conservation and the development of a green economy in the country, added Owen.

“Our biggest concern is ensuring that areas of high biodiversity are conserved and managed so that known and unknown species are protected,” Owen told The Irrawaddy. “The 26 new species discovered in Myanmar only begin to scratch the surface of what is possible, given that Myanmar’s ecosystems are so rich and varied.”

The conservation program manager highlighted southeastern Burma and the adjacent Kaeng Krachan National Park in Thailand as areas ripe for further new discoveries in future.

“Kaeng Krachan National Park and Tanintharyi National Park the forests across the border in Myanmar [in Tenasserim Division] are some of the least explored areas in Southeast Asia,” Owen said in the WWF report.

“They are the beating heart for species recovery in Thailand and Myanmar and Kaeng Krachan is home to one of the world’s most important tiger populations,” added Owen.

The WWF report lists 290 plants, 24 fish, 21 amphibians, 28 reptiles, 3 mammals and 1 bird all described as new species in 2012-13 from the Greater Mekong.

Regional highlights included a giant flying squirrel, a skydiving gecko, a fish that mates head-to-head and an eyeless cave-dwelling spider. The region spans Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s southwestern Yunnan province.

Dozens of new flora, fauna species in Myanmar
Associated Press Yahoo News 6 Jun 14;

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A dragon fish with intricate, maze-like markings on every scale, a frog with rough, chocolate-colored skin and a ginger plant are among more than two dozen flora and fauna species found in Myanmar since it emerged from a half-century of military rule and isolation.

The World Wildlife Fund said Thursday the discoveries by global scientists in the last two years highlight the need to invest in conservation as the biologically diverse nation of 60 million revs up its economic engines and opens up to foreign investment.

Already, it is starting to succumb to many of the pressures felt by neighbors in Southeast Asia, from deforestation and illegal wildlife trade to mining and the development of hydropower.

The 26 plants and animals newly identified in Myanmar include a species of dragon fish, which are hugely popular in the Asian aquatic world. The so-called "scribbled arowana," is creating a buzz on the aquarium fish blogosphere because of its unheard-of complex, maze-like markings on every individual scale.

Previously unidentified by scientists, a ginger plant collected from a single region in the cloud forests of the western state of Rakhine had been hiding in plain sight at local markets, WWF said. And a chocolate-spotted frog, a member of the Amolops family, was discovered in a mountain range that stretches along Myanmar's western border and India.

Win Myo Thu, co-founder of the local environmental group EcoDev, believes scientists have only scraped the surface of what is yet to be discovered in his country.

In part because Myanmar was cut off from the rest of the world for such a long time, limiting the ability to carry out a proper inventory, "there is a huge, huge knowledge gap," he said. "The more research that is done, the more species we are going to find."

He too worries about the impact economic development will have on the country's "biotreasures."

"Unfortunately, no one is paying attention to protecting biodiversity," he said. "They say OK, we will do this or that, but on ground it's an entirely different story."

Many of the national parks are protected, but only on paper.

The WWF said some of the more remarkable and charismatic discoveries made in 2012-13 elsewhere in the Mekong Delta region of Southeast Asia included:

— The Cambodian tailorbird — a small, dark warbler with an orange-red tuft on its head discovered, surprisingly, in that country's capital, Phnom Penh, during spot checks for the avian flu.

— A giant flying squirrel, its fur red and white, spotted initially by scientists at a bush meat market in Laos. In the same country, they found a species of huntsman spider, the first of its kind in the world without any eyes, something scientists say is attributable to living permanently without daylight.

— In Vietnam, a tiny, almost transparent fish that mates head-to head, its sex organs just behind its mouth. Scientists also found the Helen's flying frog, just 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City, which glides between treetops using its large, webbed hands and feet.

New species discoveries in the Greater Mekong
WWF 4 Jun 14;

A giant flying squirrel, a skydiving gecko, a fish that mates head-to-head, and an eyeless cave-dwelling spider are among the 367 new species revealed by scientists in the Greater Mekong region in 2012-2013, and described in WWF’s new report, Mysterious Mekong.

WWF released the report on World Environment Day, highlighting creatures both bizarre and beautiful. Among the 15 species highlighted is a new species of flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus laoensis), discovered based on a single animal collected from a bush meat market in Laos. With its distinctive red and white fur, the Laotian giant flying squirrel is also the first record of the genus from Southeast Asia.

In Cambodia, a new warbler was found hiding in plain sight in the capital Phnom Penh. The Cambodian Tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk) was first spotted in 2009 during routine checks for avian flu. Subsequent tests — from the bird’s plumage to its song and genes — formally identified O. chaktomuk as a new species.

“The species discoveries affirm the Greater Mekong as one of the world’s richest and most biodiverse regions,” said Dr Thomas Gray, Manager of WWF-Greater Mekong’s Species Programme. “If we’re to prevent these new species disappearing into extinction, and to keep alive the hope of finding other fascinating creatures in years to come, it’s critical that governments invest in conservation and green growth strategies.”

In Vietnam, a peculiar-looking bat was first seen in 2008 on Vietnam’s Cat Ba Island, but it wasn't until later, after catching some of the bats, that a team of researchers found out it was a previously unknown species. Griffin’s leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros griffini) is recognised by its grotesque, fleshy nose that assists in echolocation, the sonar-like ability bats use to help them navigate.

Also discovered in Vietnam is a tiny, almost transparent, fish with a very complex anatomy. Phallostethus cuulong bears its sex organs just behind its mouth. It mates head-to-head, with the male using its "priapium" to hook onto the female.

Among the 21 new amphibian species documented in the report is Helen’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus helenae), discovered less than 100 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The huge green frog managed to evade biologists until recently by gliding between treetops — using its large, webbed hands and feet — and only coming down to breed in rain pools. Helen’s Flying Frog was found in a patch of forest surrounded by agricultural land, highlighting the urgent need for conservation in lowland forests.

“Lowland tropical forests are among the most threatened habitats in the world due to human pressures, such as logging and degradation,” added Dr. Gray. “While Helen’s Tree Frog has only just been discovered, this species, like many others, is already under threat in its fast shrinking habitat.”

Another high flyer is a new species of parachute gecko (Ptychozoon kaengkrachanense), discovered in the montane evergreen forest in western Thailand’s Kaeng Krachan National Park. The camouflage-patterned gecko extends flaps of skin on its flanks and between its toes to help it glide down from branch to tree trunk.

“Kaeng Krachan National Park is within one of the least explored areas in Southeast Asia - a transboundary wilderness with adjacent areas in Myanmar,” added Dr. Gray. “It’s the beating heart for species recovery in Thailand and Myanmar, hosting one of the world’s most significant tiger populations. Discovering new species here confirm the importance of conservation efforts by WWF and partners in this awe-inspiring place.”

In a cave in Laos, Dr Peter Jäger discovered a new species of huntsman spider (Sinopoda scurion), the first of its kind in the world without any eyes. The regression of the spider’s eyes is attributable to living permanently without daylight.

Mysterious Mekong spotlights 15 species newly identified by science among the 290 plants, 24 fish, 21 amphibians, 28 reptiles, 3 mammals and 1 bird all formally described as new species in 2012-2013 from the Greater Mekong. This region spans Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s south-western Yunnan province. Since 1997, an incredible 2077 new species have been newly described by science in the Greater Mekong.