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Nature can still surprise us: more than 350 new species found in Himalayas

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August 13, 2009

Among more than 350 species found in the eastern Himalayas is the world's smallest deer, t...

Among more than 350 species found in the eastern Himalayas is the world's smallest deer, the miniature muntjac, which stands only 20 inches tall

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You’d think there’d be nothing new in the world to discover, but Mother Nature still has a few surprises up her sleeve. According to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), scientists have discovered 353 new species in the eastern Himalayas over the past decade. They include a ‘flying frog’ that glides using long webbed feet, fossil evidence of a 100 million-year-old gecko, and the world’s shortest deer which, when fully grown, stands just 20 inches tall.

The eastern Himalayas is one of the biologically richest areas on earth, a biodiversity ‘hotspot’ at the intersection of two continental plates. Encompassing remote mountain regions across Bhutan and Nepal, and stretching as far as Tibet and Myanmar, the region has been largely untouched by development.

Consequently, between 1998 and 2008, scientists were able to observe and record a staggering 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species, 977 bird species, 176 reptiles, 105 amphibians and 269 types of freshwater fish. New discoveries included 244 plants, 16 amphibians, 16 reptiles, 14 fish, two birds, two mammals and at least 60 new invertebrates.

Some of the most interesting finds include a bright green, red-footed tree frog Rhacophorus suffry, that uses its long, webbed feet to glide when falling. The oldest fossil gecko known to science, the 100 million-year-old Crestaceogekko burmae, was discovered in an amber mine in the Hukawng Valley in 2008.

And, perhaps most intriguing of all was the miniature muntjac which, at first, scientists assumed was simply the juvenile of another, larger animal. Eventually the 'leaf deer' was confirmed as a new species – and the world’s oldest and smallest deer – in its own right. Discovered in 1999, the miniature muntjac grows no taller than 20 inches and weighs just 25 pounds.

All in all, the WWF report The Eastern Himalayas – Where Worlds Collide makes fascinating reading, if for no other reason than the area is now starting to disappear to logging and agriculture. We may have only just discovered these new species but, already, they’re under threat.

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