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Author: I. Ting
Date: 28th May 2015


Before eating its prey alive, the ampulex dementor wasp paralyses its prey not by locking up its muscles but by stealing its free will.

A single sting of the wasp’s venom, injected into the belly of a cockroach, blocks the receptors of the neurotransmitter involved in spontaneous movement. In this zombie-like state, the stupefied cockroach is still capable of movement but can no longer control its own body, leaving it to the mercy of its hunter.

Ampulex Dementor, the soul-sucking “dementor”wasp. Photo: WWF

An average of three new species a week – more than 2,200 in total – were discovered in the Greater Mekong between 1997 and 2014. 

Named for the fictional soul-sucking dementors in the Harry Potter books, Thailand’s ampulex dementor is just one of the 139 new species discovered by scientists in the Greater Mekong region last year, according to a new report by WWF.

It’s in impressive company. The world’s second longest insect, a tiny bat with fangs so long they make Dracula look friendly and a thorny frog that switches from yellow and brown during the day to snazzy pink and yellow at night were also among the new species.

But scientists are in a race against time to document these species – including 90 plants, 23 reptiles, 16 amphibians, nine fish, and one mammal – before they disappear.

“It’s amazing that in this day and age we’re still finding such large numbers of new species. And not only that, such bizarre and beautiful species … that are also quite large and recognisable to most people,” said WWF national species manager Darren Grover.

An average of three new species a week – more than 2,200 in total – were discovered in the Greater Mekong between 1997 and 2014.

This incredible biodiversity underpins life for 80 per cent of the region’s 300 million people, who depend on these natural systems for their food, livelihoods and culture, the report states.

Yet the Greater Mekong is one of the five most threatened biodiversity hotspots in the world, according to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. The fund is a joint initiative of the European Union, the Japanese government, NGOs and the World Bank.

Hydropower developments – including construction on the Xayaburi Dam in Laos, which will block the lower Mekong River for the first time – and other infrastructure projects, poaching, rising temperatures and sea levels, and extreme weather events associated with climate change are among the greatest threats to the area.

“Some of these species may be lost just as we’re finding them,” Grover said. 

“If these projects go ahead, the loss will be very sudden. These dam projects in particular are massive and will flood extensive areas, including many that scientists haven’t had the opportunity to explore.”

Carlos Drews, WWF director of the global species programme, said intense pressures were already taking a “terrible toll” on the region’s species.

“We’ve only skimmed the surface of new discoveries in the Greater Mekong,” he said. ” One wonders how many species have disappeared before they were even discovered.”

 Head to the WWF gallery to see five of the new species discovered

Read the article at the Sydney Morning Herald.