New Species Discovered in Cardamom Mountains

A legless amphibian never before recorded by scientists has been discovered in the Cardamom Mountains, according to an international conservation NGO that helped to uncover the unusual creature.

Over the course of two years, between 2009 and 2011, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) researchers collected specimens of caecilian—a type of amphibian that looks similar to a giant earthworm—from the mountainous region in Koh Kong province.

A newly discovered species of amphibian, Ichthyophis cardamomensis, is seen in this photo taken by researchers in the Cardamom Mountains. (Fauna & Flora International)
A newly discovered species of amphibian, Ichthyophis cardamomensis, is seen in this photo taken by researchers in the Cardamom Mountains. (Fauna & Flora International)

In a paper recently published in the scientific journal Organisms Diversity & Evolution, it is revealed that their work, which was undertaken in cooperation with a number of universities, has identified a new species, the Ichthyophis cardamomensis.

Neang Thy, a herpetologist at FFI who worked on the project, said limbless amphibia were difficult to classify due to their close similarity and a dearth of experts in the area, requiring the need for comprehensive DNA analyses to recognize a new species.

Mr. Thy added that the discovery was important to help demonstrate the country’s biodiversity, which remains largely unexamined by scientists and at risk from a range of threats, including habitat destruction.

“Many Cambodians have misunderstandings about forest animals—they thought for instance that caecilians were blind snakes or worms—but now they have a better understanding of why reptiles and amphibians…are of conservation importance as natural property and deserve protection,” he said in a statement.

Zoologist Peter Geissler, a professor at Germany’s Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History who confirmed the find, said caecilians of this genus were among the least-known amphibia in Southeast Asia.

“Three distinct unstriped Ichthyophiid species—I. cardamomensis from western Cambodia, I. catlocensis from southern Vietnam, and I chaloensis from central Vietnam—are now described as new species, almost doubling the number of Ichthyophis species known from the Indochinese region,” Mr. Geissler said in a statement.

robertson@cambodiadaily.com

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