I was thankful when I first read the news about this. Everybody needs good news amidst this difficult year. But anyways, there are newly discovered species found in South Africa’s Sodwana Bay and in the Southeast Asia.
Although, not everything is rainbows and butterflies, since one of the two was declared most endangered species right after it was discovered. Let’s just start so that you find out about it soon.
According to a research published in the journal ZooKeys, a tiny kind of seahorse which has been found among the coral are the first known species in the Indian ocean. The nearest relative of this seahorse is in the waters of Southeast Asia, which is about 8000 kilometers (5000 miles) away.
“This discovery shows how rewarding it can be when researchers and the general public work together. Finding Africa’s first pygmy seahorse is a reminder that there could be other undiscovered species out there and the fact we know very little about the seahorse family. Being a part of the team that discovered this amazing creature is definitely a career highlight,” stated study co-author Maarten De Brauwer from the University of Leeds.
We all know that seahorses are quite the distinctive creatures. For one, males are the ones handling pregnancy duties. Turns out that pygmy seahorses have their own kind of uniqueness.
It’s not particularly special or anything, though. It’s just that pygmy seahorses can somehow disappear, thanks to their tiny size as well as honey-brown color and reddish tail. People without keen eyes (like me) won’t be able to notice them because of the brilliant camouflage. Over the last 20 years, scientists have identified only eight known species.
Then how did they find the species?
If they’re so elusive, then how did these people managed to find this seahorse? The researchers stated in a press release that last year, a local diver came across a tiny critter near a coral reef and informed them. When the team investigated, there it was, the camouflage master spotted among the corals.
“It’s like finding a kangaroo in Norway,” said marine biologist Richard Smith, who co-authored the study.
This phenomenon isn’t all that groundbreaking, though. In recent years, seahorses have been showing up in places that we don’t normally think to be good to live. For example, they turned up in the River Thames, which was thought to be too polluted to host anything beyond inorganic rubbish.
However, this case is mostly just a species left alone and unknown for so long. This new seahorse’s scientific name is Hippocampus nalu, which means “here it is” in the local Xhosa and Zulu.
“What an exciting journey — from a chat on a beach to finding the first South African pygmy seahorse. The coastal waters of South Africa have a lot to offer and hopefully this little pygmy is just the start of more amazing seahorse and pipefish discoveries. This should be a call to action for all divers — new discoveries might just be around the next reef,” said co-author Louw Claassens.
Newly found Southeast Asian monkey
Banded langurs, the reclusive, tree-dwelling monkey, has been considered as a single species up until this scientists’ new findings. The recent research points the species to three separate ones.
Endemic to regions such as Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, these monkeys were not considered at risk of imminent extinction because they have a broad range. Sadly, Scientific Reports has revealed that two of the new species are, right now, among the most endangered primates in the world.
The researchers worked with DNA in monkey droppings, and they use cutting-edge genetic sequencing tools to correct centuries-old taxonomic errors that could be concealing conservation emergencies.
“We want this paper to encourage more research on these totally different species of monkeys in Asia. There’s definitely a lot more diversity out there than we know of—and if we don’t know about it, we risk losing it,” said Andie Ang, a National Geographic explorer and research scientist at the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund.
Ang began studying Raffles’ banded langurs, and 19th century records classified Raffles’ banded langurs as a subspecies of regular banded langurs. Because of the limited technology, and people relied more on their eyes back then, the classification error is understandable. The monkeys are all black, with only subtle differences in white markings.
But, Ang had suspected that Raffles’ banded langurs were a distinct species. She said, “Just looking at its morphology and the descriptions of it made in the past, it seemed like they were a different species, but I didn’t have any information to support that.”
Proving it wasn’t easy, since langurs are well-known to be so hard to find, let alone observe. This animal spends most of their time in treetops and they usually flee once they sense human presence. It’s hard to take a photograph of them or dart to collect blood samples (which is not a good method).
Therefore, Ang and a team of international colleagues resorted to fecal samples, which contains a lot of information.
Poop hunt that leads to saving the species
Trying to find the droppings of a reclusive animal is harder than it sounds. “Sometimes we’d go the whole day and they didn’t poop, or we couldn’t find the poop because the forest floor looked exactly like the poop we’re looking for. Or sometimes the flies and dung beetles would get there before us,” said Ang.
The good news is that they managed to process the samples and managed to sequence the whole genome of 11 individual langurs. Then they compared them to a genetic database of prior samples as well as to each other.
In order to be considered different species, the mitochondrial sequences of mammals usually differ by around 5%. What the researchers found was a six to ten percent difference among the three langurs.
By calculation, this species diverged around three million years ago, before the Pleistocene (a period where modern humans started to appear). Ang said, “They’re not even closely related.”
Raffles’ banded langur and East Sumatran banded langur are now newly found species, but here comes the harsh truth: their populations are so small and the ranges are limited, making them critically endangered.
Ang estimates that the total population of Raffles’ banded langur is just about 300 to 400 individuals, about 60 of which live in Singapore. Researchers still have no idea about East Sumatran banded langurs. They live only in the Riau province of Sumatra, Indonesia, in an area with a high risk for forest fires, poaching, and deforestation (which has been happening).
Threats facing animals like these are, sadly, not something new. But the bright side is, the label can lead to people, governments, or institutions taking the conservation of these primates more seriously.
“Public conservation awareness is mainly on species, not subspecies, so showing that previously classified subspecies are actually distinct species helps to raise money for conservation work,” said Christian Roos, a primate geneticist at the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen, Germany.