New Species Discovered in Penang Island

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On Malaysia’s island state of Penang, a 117-member team of scientists documented flora and fauna from the tops of towering trees to the dark reaches of damp caves.

The biodiversity survey occurred within The Habitat and the adjacent Bukit Kerajaan Forest Reserve, which was originally established as a Virgin Jungle Reserve in 1911. Contiguous forest reserves, water catchment reserves, and Penang National Park together comprise approximately 19,768 acres (or 8,000 hectares). Regional partners continue to advocate for rainforest conservation in Penang, Malaysia at large, and the world.

Scientists discovered a new species of scorpion belonging to one of the oldest lineages on Earth, known as the ghost scorpions. This group is native to Southeast Asia and fluoresces when under ultraviolet light (like all scorpions), but they do so faintly enough that spotting them is incredibly difficult.

Other notable finds likely new to science include a species of iridescent fly that lives among coastal palm-like plants and a species of tardigrade (or “water bear”). These microscopic, aquatic animals inhabit moss and lichen in trees and are found on all seven continents.

Zoologists from USM also managed to capture a sought-after recording of the elusive, cryptic colugo (or flying lemur), which will add valuable new insights into how these nocturnal gliding mammals communicate.

The expedition also logged several species known to science but never recorded in Penang: the spectacular Red-rumped Swallow and Stripe-throated Bulbul; the spotted-wing fruit bat; one species of vibrant orchid; three groups of algae found in flowing water; eight species of mammals (including the peculiar lesser mouse deer); two species of frogs; several species of flies (including one that mimics ants); five groups of ants (one group being the Dracula ants named for devouring their own young); one species of mosquito; and the segmented funnel-web spider Macrothele segmentata not seen since its original discovery and description in Penang in the late 1800s.

The island state of Penang sits at the crossroads of culture, history, and cuisine. Its capital city, George Town, is already a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Every year, over one million visitors to the bustling city travel fifteen minutes by train to the tranquil summit of Penang Hill where they take in panoramic views of the landscape’s timeless beauty. The forest has become a beloved icon for many island residents and visitors, emerging as a beacon of sustainability for the country and world at large.

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