According to a new WWF report, 224 plant and vertebrate animal species were discovered in the Greater Mekong region in 2020 (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam).
There are 155 plants, 16 fish, 17 amphibians, 35 reptiles, and one mammal among these species, bringing the total number of new species described in this region to 3,007 since 1997.
The Popa langur, named after an extinct volcano in Myanmar, is among the new discoveries, as is a “stink bug” flower that is also used in a chili dipping sauce by the Isan people of northern Thailand, and the first succulent bamboo species, which means its stems can inflate and deflate during the dry and wet seasons, allowing it to survive different drought conditions.
These discoveries are the result of the efforts of hundreds of scientists, non-governmental organizations, and other research and academic institutions around the world. They also show that the region is still a hotspot for species diversity and a frontline for scientific exploration.
Unfortunately, many species become extinct before they are even discovered, as a result of habitat destruction, diseases spread by humans, predation by and competition with invasive species, and the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.
The WWF is urging governments in the region to strengthen protection for these rare species and their shrinking habitats before they become extinct.
Here are five of our favorites from the report:
1. Tylototriton phukhaensis
an orange-brown knobby newt from Thailand, has devil horns and a racing stripe. It was discovered by chance in a 20-year-old photograph from a travel magazine, piqued researchers’ interest in determining whether it still exists.
is a monkey named after Myanmar’s revered Mount Popa that was discovered in museum specimens from the UK’s Natural History Museum 100 years ago. With an estimated population of 200-250 in the wild, it is endangered due to hunting and habitat loss caused by agricultural encroachment and timber extraction.
3. Amomum foetidum,
a plant from the ginger family, was discovered in an eastern Thai plant shop and has a strong odor. It’s frequently used to replace stink bugs in a popular chili paste.
4. Leptobrachium lunatum
is a large-headed frog native to Vietnam and Cambodia that is under threat from deforestation and the harvesting of its tadpoles for food.
5. The San Phueng rock gecko (Cnemaspis selenolagus)
of Thailand appears to have a half-finished paint job. It has a yellow-orange upper body that abruptly changes to grey halfway down its back, allowing it to blend in with the lichen and dry moss on rocks and trees.