Purring Monkey? Flamboyant Lizard? New Amazonian Species Are Totally Wild

More than 400 shiny new species, ones completely unknown to science, have turned up in the Amazon rain forest, according to the latest report from the WWF. The list of novelties includes 45 orchids, a thumbnail-size frog (already highly endangered, with a Latin name that means “that may be lost”), an elusive lizard with a flame pattern that rivals a 1980s sofa, a piranha that refuses meat, and a titi monkey whose babies purr like cats when content.

Colombia’s Caquetá tití monkey may already be headed for extinction in the wild.

The list of 441 plants and animals—with 258 plants, 84 fish, 58 amphibians, 22 reptiles, 18 birds, and one mammal (that purring primate)—doesn’t even attempt to catalog an additional vast array of invertebrates still waiting to be named. It came together over four years (2010-2013), the result of a collaborative scouring of remote sections of the Amazon by scientists from around the world. Many of the species are believed to be endemic (existing nowhere else) to the Amazon Basin, so losses due to human activity are particularly devastating. The four-year inventory, says Claudio Maretti, leader of the Living Amazon Initiative at WWF, “has shown us just how important the region is for humanity and how fundamentally important it is to research it, understand it, and conserve it. The amazing Amazon rain forest … is under threat from deforestation and dam development. We cannot allow this natural heritage to be lost forever.”

The Basin’s life-brimming rain forest covers about 2.1 million square miles, mostly in Brazil but also in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. It represents more than half of all the rain forest on Earth, and is by far the most diverse biologically.

To scroll through the new WWF list of discoveries boggles the mind. In a world turning so quickly from grassy green to pavement gray, who knew there could be so much left to discover? Just a handful of quirky findings:

Caquetá tití monkey: Its young have a delightful behavior of purring in the nest. This Colombian species is already considered critically endangered due to widespread habitat destruction and fragmentation. Rural peoples in eastern Colombia, who rely heavily on pockets of remaining forest, sometimes hunt the animal for food, according to IUCN.

—Allobated amissibilis: The tiny “thimble frog,” believed to be highly endangered, is endemic to the Iwokrama Mountains of central Guyana. The area may soon be open to tourism, putting the animal at increased risk of extinction.

Guyana's "thimble frog"
The “thimble frog” of central Guyana.

Passiflora longifilamentosa: This gorgeous new species of passion flower impresses with its exotic flowers and brightly hued fruits. Together with vivid purple petals, the new species displays fantastic “noodles” or “spaghetti” (corona filaments) that burst from the flower’s center.

Passion flower
A new species of passion flower.

Chrionius Challenger: This snake is found at high elevations in Guyana and Venezuela, and is the namesake of a character from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

Chrionius Challenger snake
The Chrionius Challenger snake is named in reference to Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lost World” adventure novel.

Gonatodes timidus: It impresses with body paint of black and whitish-to-yellow in stripes and blotches, but this lizard earned its Latin name from its shy nature, rather than its stunning looks. When pursued it tends to scoot away between and under rocks, making it very hard to spot and even harder to catch.

"Gonatodes timidus" lizard
The timid but good-looking “Gonatodes timidus” lizard.

Apistogramma cinilabra: This previously unknown species of cychlid is almost certainly endemic to one small lake in Peru. It is remarkably adapted to the very low oxygen levels of its environment.

"Apistogramma cinilabra" cichlid.
The “Apistogramma cinilabra” cichlid, endangered and endemic to Peru.


Meet the Author
Degrees in English and Conservation Biology Contributing Writer, National Geographic magazine Regular Contributor, NG News Author of bestselling books Unlikely Friendships (2011) and Unlikely Loves (2013)