Jun 6

Scientists in Madagascar have discovered over 615 new species in the last decade, according to a new WWF report. 

Photo of Madame Berthe's mouse lemur resting on a branch

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, discovered in 2000.

Madagascar’s amazing new species 

Entitled “Treasure Island: New Biodiversity in Madagascar”, the WWF report lists the new species found in Madagascar between 1999 and 2010. In total, the new discoveries have included an incredible 385 plant species, 41 mammals, 61 reptiles, 69 amphibians, 17 fish and 42 invertebrates. 

Among the exciting finds are 28 previously unknown lemurs, including the tiny Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, which is believed to be the smallest primate in the world. The newly described reptiles include a colourful snake (Liophidium pattoni), the perfectly camouflaged cork bark leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus pietschmanni), and eleven new chameleons. Scientists also discovered an amazing colour-changing gecko (Phelsuma borai), which can turn from a camouflaged grey-brown to bright blue during courtship. 

Photo of Furcifer nicosiai

Furcifer nicosiai, one of eleven chameleon species discovered in Madagascar since 1999.

The large number of new plant species includes a massive fan palm, the Tahina palm or ‘dimaka’, which flowers only once before dying. Other discoveries include Komac’s golden orb spider (Nephila komaci), one of the largest web-spinning spiders in the world. 

Madagascar’s wildlife under threat 

As well as highlighting Madagascar’s great diversity, the report also warns of the threats to its unique wildlife. Many of the island’s newly discovered species are already at risk of extinction, with deforestation identified as the most significant threat. 

Photo of dimaka leaf

The Tahina palm, or ‘dimaka’, discovered in 2008.

Political instability in 2009 increased the threats to Madagascar’s wildlife and also damaged the tourism industry, which provides one of the few livelihood options for people around Madagascar’s national parks. Severe food shortages in some areas have also forced local people to hunt for bushmeat, including endangered lemurs, to survive. 

These spectacular new species show what’s at stake in Madagascar and what can be lost if we don’t save it,” said Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana, WWF Madagascar’s Conservation Director. “By protecting the environment and the island’s biodiversity, we are helping both the local communities and national government to attain more sustainable long-term development goals, and helping the world to protect irreplaceable natural resources.” 

Photo of Boophis sambirano

Boophis sambirano, one of many new frog species discovered in Madagascar.

Conserving Madagascar’s wildlife

WWF is working to establish a network of protected areas across Madagascar, and is promoting sustainable livelihood alternatives to support both local people and conservation.

We blithely think that we have a really good understanding of the natural world and what’s there, but the fact that we can go out to these places and find, on a regular basis, new species suggests that we don’t know the world half as well as we think,” said Mark Wright, Conservation Science Advisor at WWF-UK. “That reinforces our desire to protect it because what we don’t want to do is destroy these places before we even recognise it existed there.”

Photo of Petter's sportive lemur in spiny forest

Petter’s sportive lemur, just one of 28 new lemur species discovered since 1999.

Read the WWF report – Treasure Island: New Biodiversity in Madagascar.

View photos and videos of species from Madagascar on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author