GENEVA – Scientists have discovered at least 52 new species of animals and plants on the southeast Asian island of Borneo since 2005, including a catfish with protruding teeth and suction cups on its belly to help it stick to rocks, WWF International said Tuesday.
"The more we look the more we find," said Stuart Chapman, WWF International coordinator for the study of the "Heart of Borneo," a 85,000-square-mile rain forest in the center of the island where several of the new species were found. "These discoveries reaffirm Borneo's position as one of the most important centers of biodiversity in the world."
The discoveries bring the total number of species newly identified on the island to more than 400 since 1996, according to WWF, known in North America as the World Wildlife Fund.
Other creatures discovered between July 2005 and September 2006 were six Siamese fighting fish, whose unique colors and markings distinguish them from close relatives, and a tree frog with bright green eyes.
The catfish, which can be identified by its pretty color pattern, is named glyptothorax exodon, a reference to the teeth that can be seen even when the its mouth is closed. The suction cups on its belly enable it to stick to smooth stones while facing the current of Indonesia's turbulent Kapuas River system.
On the Malaysian part of the island, slow-flowing blackwater streams and peat swamps are home to the paedocypris micromegethes, which is 0.35 inch long.
The creature, which gets its name from the Greek words for children and small, is tinier than all other vertebrate species on Earth except for its slightly more minuscule cousin, a 0.31-inch-long fish found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, according to WWF.
The discoveries further highlight the need to conserve the habitat and species of Borneo, where the rain forest continues to be threatened by rubber, palm oil and pulp production, WWF said.
"The remote and inaccessible forests in the Heart of Borneo are one of the world's final frontiers for science, and many new species continue to be discovered here," said Chapman.
He added that the forests were also vital because they were the source the island's major rivers acting as a natural break to fires burning in the lowlands this year.
Jane Smart, who heads the World Conservation Union's species program, said the discovery of 52 species within a year in Borneo was a "realistic" number given that scientists guess there are about 15 million species on Earth. "There are still many more species that remain to be discovered there," she said.
Borneo is particularly important for biodiversity because the island has a high number of endemic species, creatures which only occur in that one place, she told The Associated Press. "So if you wipe out a small area, you're going to wipe out a lot of the species' habitat," she said, adding that once these creatures are destroyed, they are gone forever.
"This is a real concern when forests are ripped out for rubber plantations or oil palm plantations," Smart said.