Plate-sized spider, among other new species, found in Mekong

December 15th, 2008 - 2:23 pm ICT by ANI  

Canberra, Dec 15 (ANI): Scientists have discovered a plate-sized spider, along with a host of new species in The Greater Mekong, a remote wildlife hotspot in Asia.

The Greater Mekong comprises 600,000 square kilometers of wetlands and rainforest along 2,800 miles of the Mekong River in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and China.

It is described as one of the last scientifically unexplored regions of the world and it abounds in life seen nowhere else in the world.

So little is known about the ecology of the region that previously unknown animals and plants have been turning up at a rate of two a week for a decade.

According to a report in The Australian, at least 1,068 new species were identified in the Greater Mekong from 1997 to 2007 along with several thousand tiny invertebrates.

The discovered species include a spider bigger than a dinner plate, striped rabbits, and a bright pink millipedes laced with cyanide, among other animals.

The huntsman spider, named Heteropoda maxima, measured 30cm across and was found in caves in Laos. It was described as the most remarkable of 88 new species of spider located in Laos, Thailand and the Yunnan province of China.

The other is in Sumatra, the two sharing a common ancestor that lived several million years ago.

Annamite striped rabbits, Nesolagus timminsi, with black and brown fur, were discovered in Vietnam and Laos in 2000 and are only the second species of striped rabbit to be identified.

Among the most bizarre animals to be discovered was a hot-pink, spiny dragon millipede, Desmoxytes purpurosea.

Several were found simultaneously in Thailand as they crawled over limestone rocks and palm leaves. To defend themselves from predators, the millipedes have glands that produce cyanide.

Scientists believe that the shocking-pink coloration is to signal to predators that they would make a fatal snack.

Among the 15 mammals discovered in the region was the Laotian rock rat, Laonastes aenigmamus.

It was thought to have been extinct for 11 million years, but a researcher spotted the corpse of one on sale in a food market in Laos in 2005.

In total, the discoveries documented include 519 plants, 15 mammals, 89 frogs, 279 fish, 46 lizards, 22 snakes, 4 birds, 4 turtles and 2 salamanders.

According to Stuart Chapman, the director of WWFs (Worldwide fund for Nature) Greater Mekong programme, We thought discoveries of this scale were confined to the history books. This reaffirms the Greater Mekongs place on the world map of conservation priorities. (ANI)

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