211 new species discovered in Himalayas: sneezing monkeys, walking fish, and bejeweled vipers

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has announced that 211 new species have been discovered in the Eastern Himalayas. The area includes parts of India, Myanmar, Nepal and Tibet.

Between 2009 and 2014, approximately 34 new species a year were discovered in this region: 133 plants, ten amphibians, 39 invertebrates, 26 fish, one reptile, one bird, and one mammal.

The WWF documented and described the discoveries of the past six years in the report Hidden Himalayas: Asia’s Wonderland. The organization calls the Himalayas “one of the biologically rich areas on earth.”

Some of the newest members of the officially recognized animal kingdom are the blue-eyed frog, the walking snakehead fish, the snub-nosed monkey, and the lance-headed pit viper. Each of these animals is incredibly unique.

The snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri) has, so far, been the most popular on social media. The little black and white monkey, lovingly named Snubby, has an upturned nose that causes it to sneeze every time it rains. Snubby is one of the most critically endangered species of monkey.

“To avoid this evolutionary inconvenience, snub-nosed monkeys often spend rainy days sitting with their heads tucked between their knees,” said the WWF in its official report.

There was also the walking snakehead fish (Channa andarao) found in the Lefraguri swamp of West Bengal, India. This vibrantly colored fish has the ability to breathe air and can survive out of water for up to four days. Moving like a clumsy snake, the fish can wriggle its way nearly a quarter of a mile across the swamp lands to get between different bodies of water. National Geographic has dubbed it ‘Fishzilla’ for its aggressive behavior and mind-boggling rate of reproduction. A female walking snakehead fish can lay up to 15,000 at a time and the fish tend to mate about five times a year. This means, in theory, a single female could produce 150,000 new fish within two years. Needless to say, these fish are an important part of the area’s ecosystem.

Protobothrops himalayansus, the lance-headed pit viper, appears to be encrusted in jewels. The scales of the snake form an ornate pattern of reds, oranges, and yellows. It lives in trees and survives off of birds, lizards, and even other vipers. Oddly for an animal, scientists suspect these vipers of having suicidal tendencies. There have been observations of the vipers killing themselves with their own fangs.

“This behavior might be isolated to the star-crossed lovers, a male and female, that scientists disturbed,” said the WWF.

This region of the Himalayas is spectacularly diverse. Of the worlds 200 eco-regions- landscapes of great global biological significance- the Eastern Himalayas contains four of them. This mountain range, which separates the Indo-Gangetic Plain from the Tibetan Plateau, contains nine of the ten highest peaks on Earth, including Mount Everest. Here, over 10,000 different species of plant life can be found along with 300 mammals, 977 birds, 105 amphibians, 269 freshwater fish, and 176 reptiles.

Many incredibly rare species live in this area as well, especially in the Indian portions. For instance, more Bengal Tigers live here than anywhere else in the world. And the Eastern Himalayas are also the last place to find the greater one-horned rhino in the wild.

“The discovery of over 200 new species in the Eastern Himalayas is an important indicator of the rich biodiversity we still possess, but it also raises an important question of how to navigate the daunting development challenges facing the region while committing to preserve this natural heritage,” said Phuntsho Choden.

Only 25 percent of the orginial natural habitats of the Eastern Himalayas still remain intact.

The WWF announcement is part of a larger effort to encourage preservation of unspoiled lands. The Eastern Himalayas is a significant hotspot of biodiversity and more exploration will doubtless lead to the discovery of more new species.

“The challenge is to preserve our threatened ecosystems before these species, and others yet unknown are lost,” said Sami Tornikoski, leader of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative. “The Eastern Himalayas is at a crossroads. Governments can decide whether to follow the current path towards fragile economies that do not fully account for environmental impacts, or take an alternative path towards greener, more sustainable economic development.”

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