Trove Of New Species Discovered In Unprecedented Canopy-To-Cave Survey

The flying lemur - which can neither fly nor is it a lemur - is a highly elusive creature. © 2017 Phil Torres/bioGraphic

Just a short drive from a major city in Malaysia, an array of scientists have uncovered a cornucopia of new species hiding out in a patch rainforest. From the lofty tops of the highest trees to the dank depths of deep caves, the researchers scoured the area to find out what might be living there, and were not disappointed with their stunning results.

The team set out to conduct an unprecedented top-to-bottom search of the rainforest, with over 100 scientists, all experts in their respective fields, documenting the teeming life that makes its living among the leaves, trees, and rocks. Over a period of two weeks, these intrepid researchers uncovered a host of species new to science, as well as documenting others that have never been recorded before in this region.

What is even more amazing is that this patch of forest stands just 15 minutes away from a bustling city on Malaysia’s island state of Penang. “This forest is special because it stands protected in a region of the world facing rapid deforestation,” said Dr Meg Lowman, who led the expedition organized by the California Academy of Sciences and The Habitat Penang Hill. “It's also important as a pristine rainforest located so close to a major metropolis.”

This ghost scorpion is a new species. © 2017 Phil Torres/bioGraphic

The mountainous site is covered in large tropical hardwood trees, which have done well to shelter the creatures that live within from the expanding city. The team uncovered a new species of ghost scorpion, which belongs to one of the oldest lineages on Earth, as well as a new species of moss piglet, or tardigrade, living among the mosses and lichen.

Wagler's pit viper is highly venomous. © 2017 Phil Torres/bioGraphic

But the team also logged many species that while not new to science, had never before been recorded on the island. They documented the elusive colugo, sometimes called a flying lemur, living in the forest, as well as the stunning red-rumped swallow and teeny lesser mouse deer. They also found a trove of arthropods, from the segmented funnel-web spider that has not been seen since it was first discovered in the 1800s, to Dracula ants that bizarrely chow down on their own young. 

This subterranean ant could be new to science. © 2017 Phil Torres/bioGraphic

“Over the next few months and years, the team will analyze the specimens collected during the expedition and undoubtedly discover more new species along the way,” said Lowman. “Penang's forest is bursting with undocumented diversity – especially in the treetops, where no one had surveyed before.”

During the expedition, the scientists were not simply making note of the new species they were finding, but actively sharing the highlights using a mobile app known as iNaturalist to get the wider community involved with the amazing work they were carrying out.

A view of the city from the rainforest. © 2017 Anthony Ambrose

These photos originally appeared in bioGraphic, an online magazine about nature and sustainability powered by the California Academy of Sciences.

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