A potentially communal bright blue tarantula and a gorgeous frog that looks like it has been crafted from molten gold are just two of the incredible species that have been described from a remote region of rainforest in the Guyana highlands.
The expedition was actually carried out in 2014, when researchers traveled to Kaieteur National Park and the upper Potaro River for a month to document as much biodiversity as possible. While a lot of the forest in Guyana is still intact, most of the species that live there have remained undocumented and poorly understood.
As part of a second report on this region, which ranks among the most species-rich areas in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, the team has uncovered even more plants and animals thought to be new to science. From the stunningly beautiful blue tarantula to a frog that rears its offspring on its back, to up to 15 new species of aquatic beetles, this is thought to be just a taste of what is hiding in these forests.
Despite being nestled within a larger forest complex in central Guyana, the animals and plants found within the national park show a striking amount of endemism, meaning that they are found nowhere else on Earth. It's estimated that around 15 percent of all fish living in the rivers are endemic to the Potaro River drainage, while many of the birds, mammals, and amphibians are restricted to the Guiana Highlands and the Guiana Shield.
The Guiana Shield is a geological formation that lies beneath much of Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and parts of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela. The underlying rock is truly ancient, dating back 1.7 billion years, and the highlands are dominated by mountains known as tepuis. These mountains, with their flat tops and sheer sides, act like islands in the sky, preventing movement of species and helping to drive speciation.
As always with these reports, there is a warning at the end. Due to a low population size, Guyana has managed to escape the massive amounts of deforestation seen in many other parts of the Amazon and South America. This has resulted in the country claiming the second highest amount of forest cover anywhere on Earth, allowing it to maintain incredible levels of biodiversity and species richness.
But as ever, things are changing. Loggers have moved into some parts of the forests, while illegal gold mining is rampant in many other areas. Both practices are horribly destructive in their own ways, leaving behind a scarred, empty forest and, as many of the species that call these areas home are found nowhere else, inevitably driving extinctions.