Panama is rapidly gaining a reputation as a hotbed of biodiversity as scientists continue to reveal the discovery of dozens of new species on the tiny isthmus.
Lizards, frogs, salamanders, plants and dozens of marine creatures are among the wealth of new species discovered in Panama in the past year, many of them found in Panama’s protected areas.
Earlier this month, researchers announced the discovery of eleven new plant and animal species in the cloud forest of La Amistad National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site spanning the Costa Rican and Panamanian borders.
Three new salamander species, including a dwarf salamander no longer than a fingertip, were among the discoveries made on an expedition funded via the Darwin Initiative, a UK government conservation program which aims to catalogue the park’s myriad species.
“Finding so many new species in one area is exciting, particularly as this is probably the only place in the world you can find these animals,” said Alex Monro, a biodiversity expert with the Natural History Museum, and leader of the expedition. “It shows that we still have a lot to learn about the variety of wildlife in this region.”
The researchers further uncovered two new frogs and six new plant species, including a mistletoe with a “spectacular flower” during their exploration of the La Amistad cloud forest, the biggest forest reserve in Central America.
In September, researchers published the discovery of four new species of anole lizards in less than 24 hours in a cloud forest in the Panama highlands.
Dr Gunther Koehler, a scientist with the expedition, described the finding as a ‘once in a lifetime experience’.
“During expeditions before, we had found new species, one at a time—but four species within 24 hours, that was incredible,” he enthused.
A fourth new anole lizard was recently found in the Martin Torrijos national park, in Panama’s Coclé province.
Marine biologists are also turning up a wealth of new species in Panama’s Caribbean and Pacific waters, including shrimps, corals and ribbon worms.
In December, an research team from the Smithsonian Tropical Studies Institute (STRI) announced the finding of two new species of shrimp in the waters off Bocas del Toro, near Panama’s western border, and a third near Culebra in the Eastern Pacific.
Researchers with the STRI also announced a ‘biodiversity bounty’ last May, uncovering dozens of new species in the waters of the Coiba National Park, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
“It’s hard to imagine, while snorkeling around a tropical island that’s only a three-hour flight from the United States, that half the animals you see are unknown to science,” said the STRI’s Rachel Collin of the incredible finds.
Situated in Panama’s Pacific waters, the marine park is teeming with a diversity of species not usually found in the Pacific, thanks to nearby currents from the Indian Ocean, and the relatively recent emergence of the Isthmus of Panama which separated Caribbean and Pacific waters.