With scales like silver and an astonishing rainbow tinted head, this new species of snake discovered among the cliffs of northern Laos has been likened somewhat to David Bowie's alter ego Ziggy Stardust. The beautiful serpent is actually just one of 163 new species discovered in the region announced by the latest WWF report, Species Oddity. And they just keep turning up new species.
The organization has been compiling reports on new species found in the region since 1997, with this latest addition bringing the total number of new plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians discovered in the Greater Mekong to an impressive 2,409 over that period.
This year’s report, which documents those species unearthed in 2015, includes among its numbers a newt that looks like a Klingon from Star Trek and a spiky-haired dragon-like lizard. The newt, given the official name Tylototriton anguliceps, is actually only the fourth species from this group of amphibians to have been found in Thailand, making it an incredibly rare discovery.
The Klingon newt from Thailand. Porrawee Pomchote/WWF
It’s not only reptiles and amphibians that are new to science. Researchers have also discovered a new type of bat, Murina kontumensis, in Vietnam, whose head and forearms are covered in thick wooly fur.
There has also been quite a few outstanding species of plants found in the region famed for its lush, abundant rainforests. One of the highlights is “the Banana Pride of Nan”, a rare banana species discovered in a small area of Thailand that has bright red flowers with tiny yellow structures, making it unique among the banana family.
The Banana Pride of Nan. Wande Inta/WWF
While the new species being discovered are to be celebrated, there is also caution to be taken. For example, the Banana Pride of Nan – scientifically known as musa nanensis – has only been found in two small populations in a region heavily threatened by deforestation and despite being such a new species to science, is already considered critically endangered.
This, unfortunately, is indicative of many of the new plants and animals that are being discovered.
The report is the effort of hundreds of scientists working right across the region, from the mountains of Myanmar to the lowlands of Vietnam, who flock every year to the Mekong to study the incredible array of wildlife in the river basin.
The Chin Hills of Myanmar, where further new species may be awaiting discovery. Nobuyuki Tanaka/WWF
“These scientists, the unsung heroes of conservation, know they are racing against time to ensure that these newly discovered species are protected,” said Jimmy Borah, the Wildlife Programme Manager for the WWF-Greater Mekong region.
With over 300 million people in the region who depend on the Greater Mekong, the environment is coming under increasing pressure, as rivers are dammed, forests are felled, and wildlife trapped and sold for the meat and pet trade. The challenge is undeniably huge, but with a better understanding of these places, and an increased effort to close down illegal activity, it is hoped many species will be saved.
The spiky-frilled Phuket Horned Tree Agamid, discovered on the tourist island. Montri Sumontha/WWF