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1,000 New Species Found in Largely Unexplored Region

January 13, 2009 | 36,356 views

A rat believed to be extinct for 11 million years, a spider with a foot-long legspan, and a hot pink cyanide-producing "dragon millipede" are among the thousand newly discovered species in the largely unexplored Mekong Delta region.

The region, including parts of Vietnam and five other countries, is home to 1,068 species found between 1997 and 2007, according to a World Wildlife Fund report released in December, 2008.

The Fund dubbed the Mekong a "biological treasure trove." The organization's report "First Contact in the Greater Mekong" says 519 plants, 279 fish, 88 frogs, 88 spiders, 46 lizards, 22 snakes, 15 mammals, four birds, four turtles, two salamanders and a toad were found.

Scientists are still trying to determine if they have uncovered thousands of new invertebrate species.

Here are a few samples of brand new species found across the globe last year.

Leptotyphlops carlae
was found in a patch of forest on the eastern side of Barbados. Thin as a spaghetti noodle and small enough to curl up on a quarter, it's believed to embody the evolutionary limits of snake smallness.

Undiscovered parasites are relatively common, but Myrmeconema neotropicum does something no other parasite can: mimic fruit. The abdomens of infected ants swell and turn bright red, making them easy targets for berry-hungry birds who then spread M. neotropicum's eggs in their droppings.

Carpomys melanurus
, or the greater dwarf cloud rat, was first observed 112 years ago, and never seen again. Until it was found again in the rain-forest treetops of the Philippines, scientists thought it was extinct. 

Tridacna costata
is the first giant clam species found in two decades, and not a moment too soon: Fossil evidence suggests it once made up 80 percent of Red Sea giant clams, and now accounts for just 1 percent.

With only 8,000 of an estimated 3 million bacterial species identified, new bugs aren't hard to find. But unlike Chryseobacterium greenlandensis, they don't usually date from the late Pleistocene.

Thawed from ice recovered two miles below the surface of a 120,000-year-old Greenland glacier, C. greenlandensis appears unchanged by its time in deep-freeze. Its discoverers aren't sure whether it shut down or just slowed down its metabolism.

"There may be some metabolism occurring in the ice. If they have been dividing, it may be on a very low rate, on a scale we're not accustomed to — so slow, they could be dividing every 100 or 1,000 years," said Penn State biochemist Jennifer Loveland-Curtze. Asked whether her samples may not have divided at all, and have survived in suspended animation for 120,000 years, Loveland-Curtze replied, "We don't know yet."

And there's more: 120,000 years could be the low end of C. greenlandensis' age. "The bottom of the ice core had sediment where the glacier had rubbed against the earth," said Jean Brenchley, a Penn State microbiologist. "We don't know if the microorganisms were from snow that was deposited and became trapped, or were scooped up from the permafrost and there for millions of years."

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