'Laughing' insects among new species discovered in PH

Posted at 06/08/11 4:36 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Laughing cicadas and small "cat sharks" are among scores of species believed new to science discovered by US and Filipino researchers in waters and islands of the Philippines, the team said Wednesday.

The finds showcased the vast biodiversity of the Southeast Asian archipelago that is now under severe threat, said the experts from the California Academy of Sciences and local institutions.

The team found a rich harvest of starfish, sea urchins, eels and barnacles, many of which had not been previously documented by scientists, said Richard Mooi, one of the California marine scientists.

"We found at least 75 new species, perhaps more. A lot more analysis is needed," he told a forum to announce the discoveries.

"Unquestionably, we found 20 new species of starfish and sea urchins alone," he added.

Fellow academy scientist John McCosker said they discovered several small "cat sharks" that might also be a new species.

Among the other unusual discoveries, insect specialist Ireneo Lit said his group believed they had found several new species, including a cicada that made a sound like high-pitched laughter.

The expedition had trawled the depths of the waters off Batangas province and Taal Lake south of Manila, and also took samples of living things from four mountains over the past month.

"We found one new species of eel, possibly a new species of pipe fish, new species of barnacles, new species of nudibranch mollusks," said Terry Gosliner, dean of the California Academy.

Three possible new species of spiders were also found in a search of the mountains, said spider expert Charles Griswold.

It would take several months of laboratory work to confirm if the finds were all truly new species but the large number of experts involved could easily tell if they had really found something new, Mooi said.

Edgardo Gomez, a professor of the University of the Philippines' Marine Science Institute, said some of the marine finds would have been under threat of extinction.

"Philippine marine biodiversity is under siege," Gomez told the forum.

He cited damage caused both by pollution and overfishing and climate change.