Researchers discover animals previously thought to be extinct in Honduras's 'White City'

Researchers with Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program have discovered new species of wildlife and several species of animals that were previously thought to be extinct in the heart of Honduras's Mosquitia rainforest. 

In a recently published 216-page report,14 scientists from the U.S., Honduras and Nicaragua announced that they had identified 183 species of plants, 246 species of butterflies and moths, 198 species of birds, 22 species of amphibians, 35 species of reptiles, 13 species of fish, 40 species of small mammals and 30 species of medium-to-large mammals during their nearly two-week journey through one of Central America's least-explored rainforests.

Photo: Conservation International

The team of researchers traveled to the Ciudad del Jaguar area of the 865,000-acre forest in 2017, after an aerial survey of the region had revealed ruins of settlements believed to be part of the fabled Ciudad Blanca, otherwise known as the White City. 

"The biodiversity of Ciudad Blanca is exceptional in the context of Central America," the authors of the report said. "Species richness of most taxonomic groups was higher than has been observed with comparable sampling effort at other sites in Honduras and across the region more broadly." 

Photo: Conservation International

Researchers said that they had found 22 new species records in Honduras and rediscovered three species that had not been reported in the country for decades. Interestingly enough, one of the 22 records — a livebearing poeciliid fish called a Molly — is completely new to science, the authors said. The three rediscovered species, on the other hand, were the Pale-faced Bat, the False Tree Coral Snake and the Tiger Beetle Odontochila nicaraguensis. 

"The results of our rapid biological survey show that the Ciudad del Jaguar area supports tremendously rich biodiversity, including many rare and threatened species," the authors said. "It is one of the few areas remaining in Central America where ecological and evolutionary processes remain intact."

Scroll through the gallery below to see photos of the animals researchers came across in Honduras's White City.

Wildlife in Honduras's "White City"
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Wildlife in Honduras's "White City"
Morpho butterflies, such as the above Morpho helenor, are among the largest butterflies in the world, with wings spanning from five to eight inches. Morpho butterflies are affected by habitat degradation, and are sought out by butterfly collectors from around the world.
The Pale-faced Bat (Phylloderma stenops) was rediscovered during this survey after more than 75 years since it was last documented in Honduras in 1942. These bats live near streams where they feed on fruit and insects.
A male Harlequin beetle (Acrocinus longimanus) sits on the base of a tree. The scientific name refers to the extremely long front legs of the male, which are used as a sexual display to females.

White-lipped peccaries, a pig-like species extremely sensitive to deforestation and degradation, represent an important prey for apex predators such as jaguars, which appear to thrive at the site. Here, a large herd of White-lipped peccaries is seen crossing a river near camp. When startled or threatened, they produce loud barks and clacking noises with their teeth.

The discovery of this glass frog (Sachatamia albomaculata) during the expedition represents the first scientific record for the species for the Department of Gracias a Dios. Glass frogs, such as this species, indicate the pristine water quality and forest health of the White City.
Puma appear to be relatively common in the area. RAP director and scientific team leader Trond Larsen came face to face with a puma during a night walk.

Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii), also known as the Central American tapir, is a species of tapir native to Mexico, Central America and northwestern South America. Due to habitat loss and poaching, and the fact that their reproductive rate is slower than other hunted species, the tapir is listed as an endangered species.

The high abundance of tapir at the site is evidence of the low levels of hunting and is a positive sign for the ecosystem, as they are a food source for the area's big cats.

A venomous Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schlegelii) uses its tongue to "smell" the surroundings. This species was one of five venomous snakes observed during the trip, making the trek through the region especially perilous.
A pair of Great Curassow walk down a path looking for fruit. These species are important seed dispersers for large seeded trees that maintain forest integrity. The Great Curassow has been depleted throughout much of its range as a result of hunting but is common at Ciudad del Jaguar due to low hunting.

In a rarely observed event, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle preys upon an endangered Great Green Macaw. Fewer than 2,500 mature Great Green Macaw individuals are thought to be surviving in the wild. Their principal threat is deforestation, but the high abundance of macaws researchers observed at the White City suggests that the area is a regional stronghold for this rare species.

The Ornate Hawk-Eagle, on the other hand, is currently listed as near-threatened by the IUCN and is rarely seen in Honduras.

During the mating season (and when the rains start), the calls of the explosive breeding Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas) fill the night air. It is one of 22 amphibian species that were documented.
The salamander Bolitoglossa mexicana is an excellent climber and is usually found in trees and shrubs. While diverse and commonly seen in much of North America, salamanders tend to be rare in the neotropics.
Fresh water crabs are common and provide important food for many animals, including the threatened neotropical river otter, which was also recorded at the site.
The False Tree Coral Snake (Rhinobothryum bovallii), discovered on the expedition, was believed to be extinct in Honduras since 1965. It spends a lot of time in the forest canopy, making it a hard-to-find species that is dependent on old-growth forests.
Jaguars are a keystone species that stabilize and maintain ecosystem balance by regulating populations of their prey. Deforestation, habitat loss and overhunting have decimated their populations throughout much of their range. Conserving the White City is essential for connecting large-scale wildlife corridors that enable the long-term persistence of these wide-ranging cats.
The Tiger Beetle (Odontochila nicaraguensis) had only previously been recorded at a single site in Nicaragua and was subsequently thought to be extinct until its rediscovery during this expedition.
This species of worm salamander (Oedipina quadra) represents a top conservation priority due to its high vulnerability and restricted geographic distribution. Its tail can reach an extraordinary length in proportion to its body.

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