There are some special places on Earth that scientists are pretty sure will yield new species when they manage to get there. The deepest parts of the ocean, for example, or remote islands that have not been trampled by tourists. But a high altitude Bolivian cloud forest has claimed its claim as a global biodiversity hotspot as biologists announced today that they discovered 20 amazing species, new to science, including a poisonous viper, a super little frog and four species of orchids and butterflies.
This biodiversity Shangri-La is known as the Zongo Valley, located about 30 miles from the city of La Paz, Bolivia. It has been protected from human intrusion due to the steep mountain slopes, which range from 2,000 to 17,000 feet above sea level. These slopes are home to a “cloud forest” that forms as moist air condenses and produces constant high-altitude rainfall that supports a wide variety of animals. rare andean bear too small dung beetles and unusual plants that look like insects. Andean cloud forests like the Zongo also produce most of the water that flows into the Amazon River basin. Zongo’s rugged terrain and steep slopes have also isolated animals and plants from each other, producing new species over generations.
Zongo Valley is difficult to access for scientists and loggers, say Trond Larsen, director of Conservation International’s rapid assessment program and coordinator of the Bolivian expedition. “This is one of the reasons we find so many unique species,” Larsen says. “When you find a lot of steep valleys, it blocks the movement of animals, so there are pockets of high endemism. The same characteristics that lead this area to benefit from natural protection also contribute to the unique things that we find.
Among the treasure trove of biological discoveries announced today: The Lilliputian Frog (Noblella sp. Nov.), which is about 10 millimeters in length, or about half the width of a penny, making it one of the smallest amphibians in the world. It lives in tunnels under the moss and was only found after patiently following its deep cry. The expedition team also found the mountain spearhead (Bothrops Monsignifer), a new species of poisonous viper, which uses heat sensing pits on its head to detect its prey, and the Bolivian Flag Snake (Eutrachelophis sp. Nov.), which is distinguished by red, yellow and green colors similar to the Bolivian flag. It was discovered in the thick undergrowth along the mountain ridge at the highest elevation studied.