Deep in the Greater Mekong, a beacon of biodiversity in Southeast Asia, researchers have discovered a treasure trove of newly described species. Among the 157 species new to science, there are monkeys that look like world-weary Luke Skywalker, a leaf-toed gecko, and bat with a funky haircut.
The discoveries are revealed in a new WWF report New Species on the Block, which details the newly described species discovered in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam in 2017.
One of the boldest characters of the bunch is the Skywalker Hoolock Gibbon, which can be found in the forests of Myanmar. It took nearly 10 years to confirm that young Skywalker (Hoolock tianxing) diverged from its most closely related ancestor (H. leuconedys) about 0.6 million years ago, making it a new species. Unfortunately, this little guy is already listed as one of the top 25 most endangered primates on the planet.
The Hkakabo Razi Tube-nosed Bat was also listed as a new species. Recognized by its distinctive blond-tipped haircut, the researchers have nicknamed the creature the "Lance Bass Bat," in homage to the *NSYNC member’s iconic frosted tips.
The Pancake catfish, which looks pretty much exactly as it sounds, was discovered in Myanmar in an extremely remote mountain stream. Also newly documented in 2017 was a species of tiny toad called Elfin Mountain Toad. This hobbit-like creature lives in the moss-covered, dank foggy forests of Vietnam.
This is obviously just a handful of the newly described species. You can check out some of the others in the images below.
The discovery of new species is always great news, nevertheless, daunting challenges lay ahead when it comes the world’s wildlife. As WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report emphasized, the world’s biodiversity is in deep danger. Between 1970 and 2014, global populations of vertebrate species have declined in size by 60 percent on average.
“There are many more species out there waiting to be discovered and tragically, many more that will be lost before that happens,” Stuart Chapman, WWF’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director for Conservation Impact, said in a statement. “It doesn’t have to be this way. Ensuring that large reserves are designated for wildlife, along with increased efforts to close illegal wildlife trade markets, will go a long way to conserving the extraordinary wildlife diversity in the Mekong region.”
"There is blood, sweat, and tears behind every new discovery,” added Chapman. “But it’s a race against time to announce a new discovery so steps can be taken to protect it before it’s too late.”