With the current extinction rate 100 to 1000 times greater than the natural rate found in fossil evidence, it could be looked upon as fortuitous the discovery of over 1000 species of animals in the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia. World Wildlife Foundation researchers found a great variety of animals, according to the Star, including the world’s largest Huntsman spider, a green pit viper, a hot pink dragon millipede, and a Laotian rock rat thought to have been extinct for a 11 million years.
World Wildlife Foundation researchers reported in First Contact: New Species Discoveries that the area, which is comprised of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s Yunnan province, “is a major global hotspot for biodiversity,” according to spokesman Pete Ewins.
The World Conservation Union reported back in 2004 that species were disappearing at an alarming rate. In just the previous two decades, 15 species had gone extinct and another 12 existed only in captivity. With the growing fear of climate alterations and bolstered by the knowledge that they could be running out of time World Wildlife Foundation researchers entered the Mekong area after it stabilized politically and began documenting the many heretofore “undiscovered” species of fauna.
Among the discoveries was 88 new species of spiders. One species, the Heteropoda maxima, is considered to be among the largest Huntsman spiders every encountered. It has a leg span of over 30 centimeters (roughly 12 inches). Huntsman spiders, contrary to popular belief, are not lethal killers. Their venom is not potent enough. However, they do account for many human deaths each year, due to their nature of dropping from trees, bamboo, and bushes, causing the startled person to endanger themselves in an attempt to escape them.
Another interesting find was a hot pink dragon millipede. The easily distinguishable dragon millipede was discovered moving freely about on limestone rocks and Arrenga pinnata palms. Of course, their spiny defense could account for some freedom of movement, but the fact that the dragon millipede exudes deadly cyanide as a defense mechanism might also have something to do with it.
Stuart Chapman, communication director of the WWF’s Greater Mekong Programme, told the Bangkok Post, “A few places in the world have a large scale of diversity like Congo and Borneo. But due to our latest survey, we have to include the Greater Mekong into the list.”
Researchers discovered the Laotian rock rat in a local food market. The Laotian rock rat was thought to be exinct – and not just recently. Scientists believed that the Laotian rock rat, which looks like a cross between a squirrel and a rat, became extinct 11 million years ago.
There were 279 new species of aquatic animals discovered in the Mekong delta.
The Mekong region also hosted an additional 22 species of snakes. Among them, a green pit viper, Trimeresurus gumprechti, was discovered. Gumbrecht’s green pit viper boasts scales of overlapping brilliant green that resemble leaves, making it perfect protective coloration for its tropical habitat. Two off-colored spots above the green pit viper’s eyes resemble horns, giving the already menacing-looking snake an even more ominous visage.
The World Wildlife Foundation and other world conservation groups are working with the region’s governments in attempts to preserve as much of the natural habitats of the newly discovered species as possible. But with ever increasing human expansion and the effects of climate change on the varied ecosystems, it has become a race against the clock to document and perhaps save hundreds of species that the world (except for perhaps the indigenous Southeast Asian populations) did not know existed.