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Cryptic gecko species found hidden in mountains of Asia (photo)

Herp alert: A new species of South East Asian Cnemaspis gecko has been discovered in the rocky foothills of Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains.

The unique combination of its color pattern and scale characteristics, not seen in any other Southeast Asian species of Cnemaspis, has resulted in it being officially recognized as new to science, the conservation charity Fauna & Flora International said in a news statement today.

new-gecko-species-Cnemaspis neangthyi photo.jpgCnemaspis neangthyi has an olive-green color with light colored, paired, paravertebral blotches containing a central black dot, according to FFI’s description. “It also has a distinct light green chevron marking on the nape and the head has a distinct black parietal spot and radiating black lines extending from the orbit. The base color of the limbs is the same as the body and stippled with light green and black. The digits have light yellow and black bands.”

Photo Credit Dr Lee Grismer

“Cnemaspis are diurnal species that usually go unnoticed because of their cryptic coloration and habit of foraging on the shaded surfaces of trees and overhanging rock faces,” FFI said.

The new gecko has been named Cnemaspis neangthyi, in honor of Cambodian scientist Neang Thy, who heads up Fauna & Flora International’s Cardamom Mountains Research Group.

The gecko was found during a reptile and amphibian survey led by Lee Grismer, La Sierra University and FFI, in June 2007.

Cnemaspis neangthyi has been named in honor of Mr Neang in recognition of his important contributions to the study of Cambodia’s reptiles and amphibians and his untiring efforts and personal sacrifice to support conservation research in his country,” Grismer said.

“I am very happy and proud to have a species named after me,” Neang said. “It gives me much pleasure and makes me feel my work as a herpetologist is being recognized. I hope it will stimulate Cambodian people to think about the animals they see in their everyday life and make them realize these animals are often named after a specific call they make, the shape they have, the class they belong to or the person who discovered them.”

This is the second species of the Cnemaspis genus to be found in Cambodia. It is endemic to the Cardamom Mountains, meaning it lives nowhere else on Earth, FFI said.

“Cnemaspis geckos have a relatively ancient body plan characterized by a broad flattened head, large forward and upward directed eyes, flattened body, long widely splayed limbs, and long inflected digits that help them to climb trees and rock faces and seek refuge within crevices,” FFI said.

There are now 75 species of Cnemapsis known to science, of which 30 live in Southeast Asia. 

FFI’s biological surveys of the southwestern Cardamom Mountains have shown the area to be one of the most important areas for biodiversity conservation in Asia, FFI said. The area is home to more than 62 threatened animal and 17 threatened tree species, many of them unique to this region.

“There are likely many more species to be discovered in the Cardamom Mountains,” Neang said. “Maybe this will also help to involve Cambodian people more in the conservation of species, landscapes and habitats. If we do not do this, many animals in Cambodia may soon become extinct and we will not be able to show them to our children,” he said.

The Cardamom Mountains contains three protected areas: Phnom Samkos Wildife Sanctuary, Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest.

“Although less than 10 percent of the range has been explored to date, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization rates the Cardamom Mountains as ‘one of the most important areas for biodiversity conservation in Asia,'” FFI said.

“They have been named a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, are considered one of the planet’s 200 Global Ecoregions and contain no less than three Important Bird Areas. They shelter at least 62 globally threatened animal and 17 globally threatened tree species, many of which are endemic to Cambodia. The Greater Cardamoms cover over 2 million hectares of forest, one of the largest remaining blocks of evergreen forest in South East Asia,” FFI said.

The entire Cardamom region is now under increasing pressures from development, the conservation charity added.