You would think by now we would have documented every species on Earth. But, every year scientists reveal new species in the Greater Mekong Region – and other regions around the world. At the bottom of the article, I’ll touch on how scientists keep discovering new species.
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam make up the Greater Mekong Region. Vast forests and large rivers help hide the new species uncovered each year. Since 1997, 2,216 new species have been discovered. 139 of these were discovered last year.
2014 will be a year to remember. They range from the beautiful Thai ‘Princess’ Moths to the horrifying Dementor Wasp. Oh, and some snakes and bats. I know what you are thinking. ‘A wasp is worse than a snake?’ This isn’t just any wasp.
Meet the Dementor Wasp.
Credit: Michael Ohl/ Museum für Naturkunde
I’m reaching for a can of Raid already…
A single sting from this wasp turns its prey into a zombie. Lucky for us, the Dementor Wasp likes its prey small. It primarily hunts cockroaches.
A quick sting to the cockroaches’ belly saps its free will. But, not its ability to move. The wasp grabs ahold of the cockroach’s antennae and leads it to a safe place. Then, it’s dinner time.
Now that you’re terrified let’s switch gears to an insect that’s easier on the eyes.
The Thai ‘Princess’ Moth, or Sirindhornia Genus.
Credit: Natasak Pinkaew
This moth is tiny but has a beautiful color variation. Its wings stretch just 5 mm long. The Sirindhorn name honors Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand. She helps the Chaipattana Foundation and owns the community forest where these specimens were gathered.
This insect is the second longest in the world.
Credit: Jerome Constant
Phryganistria heusii yentuensis is 54 cm long from and holds the title of second longest insect in the world. It’s nearly as long as its scientific name.
Scientists don’t expect the stick looking insect to hold the title for long. Three of the biggest insects have been described in just the last year.
“We now have more than 150 new species of stick insects to describe, only from Vietnam after a few expeditions, so imagine what there remains to discover,” said Jerome Constant, he led the expedition that spotted this insect.
Of the 139 species discovered in this region last year, there were 90 plants, 23 reptiles, 16 amphibians, nine fish and one mammal.
In this region alone, there are three new species discovered each week on average. Imagine what lies in the Amazon rainforest that has yet to be discovered.
How are scientists still discovering new species?
Some of you are probably wondering how scientists keep discovering new species. With all of our technology and access to remote areas, shouldn’t we have found everything by now?
There are a couple reasons.
Some areas of the world are still extremely tough to reach. New species discoveries usually come from dense forests. Getting into some of these areas is only possible by foot or boat.
And, after seeing some of these discoveries – who the hell would want to go back? I would be afraid of what else lurks in those forests.
I forgot to mention the Long-Fanged Bat found in Laos and Vietnam.
Credit: Judith L. Eger
Just look at those teeth!
Sadly, this bat could become extinct soon due to dam construction and quarrying in Laos.
Hiding in plain sight
Sometimes new species are hiding in plain sight. Take the recent Panther Chameleon. Scientists thought they were just one species. Turns out, there are 11 species.
This is often the case in biodiversity hotspots such as Madagascar and the Amazon River basin.
The 139 species discovered last year in Southeast Asia won’t be the last. There’s no telling what future expeditions will uncover deep in these forests.
Top image credit: Allie Caulfield