Amazing New Animals

Asia’s Mekong River region holds hundreds of new species

Dec 12, 2011 | By Joe Levit
L. LEE GRISMER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The mighty Mekong is the 10th-longest river in the world. It begins in China and runs through five other countries on its way to the South China Sea. Some of the world’s most endangered species—such as tigers, Asian elephants and the Mekong giant catfish—live in the Mekong River region. Now it has been announced that scientists working in the area have found more than 200 new species of plants and animals, including fish, reptiles, mammals, amphibians and a bird.

This tiny bird lives in rocky forests in both Laos and Vietnam. It looks like other birds in the area, but the Limestone Leaf-Warbler’s very loud call helped scientists figure out that it was a new species.
ULF JOHANSSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
This tiny bird lives in rocky forests in both Laos and Vietnam. It looks like other birds in the area, but the Limestone Leaf-Warbler’s very loud call helped scientists figure out that it was a new species.

A Collection of Creatures

One of the most interesting new species is the psychedelic gecko, found only on Hon Khoai Island, off the southern tip of Vietnam. This lizard sports a rainbow of lively colors. Its arms, legs and tail are a bright orange color. But it has a bluish body, and its neck is yellow with black lines.

Another new lizard reproduces by cloning, or making an identical copy of, itself. The self-cloning lizard is a species made up entirely of females. No males are needed to create more members.

The wolf snake is a new snake found in a mountain region in China. They are named after wolves because they have big fangs in both their top and bottom jaws. These snakes hunt at night. They try to catch frogs and lizards. 

Just because these species are new to scientists doesn’t mean they are new to everyone. One monkey from Myanmar has been known to the local people in the area for many years. The hair on this new monkey’s head makes it look a little bit like rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley. Besides the distinct hairdo, the monkey also has a short, stumpy nose, with nostrils that face forward.

Threatened Habitat

All of the discovered animals live in a region that is considered rich in wildlife. Unfortunately, the area is also threatened by habitat loss, deforestation, climate change and overdevelopment.  

Scientists worry that many creatures may become extinct before they can even be recognized by science in the first place. "This is a region of extraordinary richness in terms of biodiversity but also one that is extremely fragile," said Sarah Bladen, communications director for WWF Greater Mekong. "It's losing biodiversity at a tragic rate."