Darwin’s Lost World

Evolution is alive and swimming in Borneo.

By Boonsri Dickinson|Thursday, April 26, 2007

/~/media/import/images/e/8/8/fish-300(Click on image to enlarge)

A new catfish species uses an adhesive organ on its belly
to glue itself to rocks.

(Courtesy of Dr. Heok Hee Ng, WWF)

Charles Darwin called Borneo “one great wild untidy luxurianthothouse made by nature for herself.” The Southeast Asian islandcontinues to be one of the world’s most sizzling hot spots ofbiodiversity. The World Wildlife Fund recently announced that in 2006biologists identified a record 52 new species there: 30 fish, 2 treefrogs, 16 ginger plants, 3 trees, and a large-leafed plant.

Among them is a new species of Glyptothorax, one of the world’sstrangest catfish. Glyptothorax doesn’t swim much, preferring insteadto use suckers on a patch of belly below its mouth to cling to rocks infast-moving rivers. Unlike other Glyptothorax, the new species hasteeth that protrude even when its mouth is shut. That’s why thecreature was named Glyptothorax exodon (meaning “out teeth”).

Countless species found nowhere else flourish in Borneo’s warm rainforests. Since 1994, more than 400 new species have been discovered onthe island, including the world’s largest cockroach, a snake thatchanges colors like a chameleon, a catlike carnivorous mammal, and apygmy elephant. The island is also one of two places in the world whereendangered orangutans, elephants, and rhinos live together.

“What is special about Borneo is that big and small species alikeare still being discovered,” says Adam Tomasek, director of the Borneoand Sumatra program at the WWF. Scientists need to act fast: Most ofthe newfound species are endangered by deforestation.

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