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Planet Earth

Darwin’s Lost World

Evolution is alive and swimming in Borneo.

By Boonsri DickinsonApril 26, 2007 5:00 AM


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

Among them is a new species of Glyptothorax, one of the world’s strangest catfish. Glyptothorax doesn’t swim much, preferring instead to use suckers on a patch of belly below its mouth to cling to rocks in fast-moving rivers. Unlike other Glyptothorax, the new species has teeth that protrude even when its mouth is shut. That’s why the creature 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 where endangered orangutans, elephants, and rhinos live together.

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

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