Posts from 2012

New Species of Bornean Slow Loris

15 December 2012

The sight of a Slow Loris (Nycticebus menagensis) staring down at you from the rainforest canopy, its eyes brightly illuminated by your headlamp, is always an exciting find. It was only three weeks ago, whilst I was on a nocturnal foray with a group of photographers in the jungles bordering Sarawak and Kalimantan, that I had my most recent encounter with a loris. Unfortunately, these nocturnal primates are nowhere abundant and sightings of them uncommon at best, due in part to patchy distributions and also sadly, capture for the pet trade.

A new paper in American Journal of Primatology presents a dramatic new view of the loris diversity in Borneo. Previously, three subspecies of loris were known from the island: N. m. bancanus, N. m. borneanus, and N. m. menagensis, which differed from each other in fur coloration and body size. However, taking into account other recent findings in loris diversity, the reseachers of the present paper undertook a thorough investigation on the variation of Bornean lorises, which had never been studied in great detail.

After critically examining a number of museum specimens and carefuly comparing their morphology and corresponding geographic locations, they concluded that there were not three, but four distinct loris types on Borneo, and went further to elevate each of these to its own species status. Thus the presently recognized species now include: N. bancanus, N. borneanus, N. menagensis, and the new N. kayan.

Several months ago I received an email from Dr. Anna Nekaris, who heads The Little Fireface Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to loris research and conservation. She pointed out that one of the animals which I had photographed in Sarawak several years ago represented the newly described Nycticebus kayan (pictured below). Specifically, the Kayan Loris can be distinguished from other Bornean lorises by a combination of features including its highly contrasting and distinctive face mask.

Nycticebus kayan

Like all lorises, the Kayan Loris is primarily nocturnal and feeds on a variety of insects and soft fruits. Lorises are also unique among primates in that they possess a venomous bite which is used in self-defense. The bite can cause fever, pain, and swelling, and in people who happen to be allergic the results may even be fatal. One Sarawakian who I met in Mulu National Park, had to be hospitalized for several days after being bitten when handling a wild loris.

Although more research, including genetic studies, remains to be done on Bornean lorises, the new discovery helps not only to shed light on the variations of these nocturnal primates, but also is a testament to the amazing diversity which is continuing to be revealed within Southeast Asian rainforests.

References:

R. Munds, S. Ford, K.A.I. Nekaris. Taxonomy of the Bornean Slow Loris, with New Species Nycticbus kayan (Priamtes Lorisdae). American Journal of Primatology, December 2012; DOI: 10.

Borneo Rainbow Toad Rediscovered

10 July 2012

This time last year Borneo’s amazing biodiversity again made widespread news with the rediscovery of the long lost Borneo Rainbow Toad. In July 2011 researchers from the University of Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) led by herpetologist Dr. Indraneil Das made an extraordinary find in the mountains of western Sarawak. Three small amphibians were observed in the branches of a tree, and upon close inspection these were revealed to be none other than Ansonia latidisca, a species which had not been seen since 1924.

Measuring up to 5 cm in length, this toad is one of the largest and certainly most colorful in the genus Ansonia. Although the dorsum is richly patterned with green, yellow, purple, and brown with red-tupped warts, the general appearance is somewhat “mossy” and this may serve to camouflage the animal from potential predators.

The rediscovery of this species brings some much-needed hope in the face of ever-increasing worldwide amphibian extinctions, particularly as Conservation International had previously listed the Borneo Rainbow Toad as one of the “world’s top 10 most wanted frogs” in their Global Search for Lost Frogs in 2010. Nevertheless, amphibians remain the most threatened group of vertebrates on the planet, with severe threats coming from habitat loss, climate change, and the dreaded chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis).

Photographs are still scarce of this elusive species, and little is known of its life cycle, behavior, or remaining popultion.

Ansonia latidisca

New Pitcher Plant Discoveries

2 February 2012

The incredible diversity of Tropical Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes) becomes more evident each year as new species continue to be discovered across Southeast Asia. As recently as 1997, a total of only 82 Nepenthes were recognized, but in the past 15 years new findings and some taxonomic splits bring the world total to nearly 140 species today. Many of these new discoveries not only showcase the fascinating ecological adaptations and trap designs that make these carnivorous plants so successful, but they also help to shed light on their possible evolutionary relationships and biogeographical pathways.

I was fortunate to be able to contribute towards several papers in a recent publication “The New Nepenthes – vol. 1″ (Dec 2011) which compiles work from multiple authors and describes eight new Nepenthes species that have been found in recent years. Two of these, N. undulatifolia (below left) and N. nigra are from Sulawesi, an island with a relatively impoverished Nepenthes flora of only 11 species. The highly unusual N. undulatifolia was an exciting find for botanists because it could not be clearly grouped with any other closely related species.

The remote Hose Mountains in central Sarawak, an area where I had discovered two other endemic Nepenthes in 2001, yielded another new species, N. appendiculata (below right), during a study in 2011. This species was named for the remarkable swollen appendage protruding from the tip of the pitcher lid, a feature unlike any other species in the genus. Presumably an aid in the attraction of insect prey, this appendage is brightly colored and riddled with large nectar glands. Further field work may determine what types of insects this plant specializes in feeding on.

Nepenthes undulatifoliaNepenthes appendiculata

References:

Jebb, M. & M. Cheek (1997) A Skeletal Revision of Nepenthes (Nepenthaceae). Blumea 42: 1-106.

Lee, C.C., G. Bourke, W. Taylor, Y.S. Teck, K. Rembold (2011) Nepenthes appendiculata, a new Pitcher Plant from Sarawak. In The New Nepenthes, Redfern Natural History Publications Ltd. 1: 24-35.

Lee, C.C., A. Wistuba, J. Nerz, U. Zimmermann, A.P. Paserang, R. Pitopang (2011) Nepenthes undulatifolia, a new Pitcher Plant from South East Sulawesi. In The New Nepenthes, Redfern Natural History Publications Ltd. 1: 492-505.

Nerz, J., A. Wistuba, C.C. Lee, G. Bourke, U. Zimmermann, S. McPherson (2011) Nepenthes nigra, a new Pitcher Plant from Central Sulawesi. In The New Nepenthes, Redfern Natural History Publications Ltd. 1: 468-491.


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