Biologists find new earthworm species

Biologists find new earthworm species
News Writer: Apinya Wipatayotin

Biologists at Chulalongkorn University have discovered 35 new species of earthworms, one new centipede and a new species of leech after five years of research unveiled yesterday.

Lead researcher Somsak Panha, Associate Dean of Research Affairs in the biology department, said most of the new earthworms were discovered in Isan.

Twenty species are giant earthworms measuring 30-40cm long, which is 20 times bigger that ordinary earthworms found elsewhere in the country. Most of them were found in Surin, Kalasin and Chaiyaphum.

The other 15 new earthworm species live in a unique biological system of fresh water. These include earthworms from the Pachee River basin, from Kaengsapher Creek in Ubon Ratchathani and from Phuket province.

"Different kinds of earthworms have different functions to fertilise the soil. If we know more about them, we can gain more knowledge in developing our agricultural zones to make them more fertile so we can depend less on fertiliser and pesticide," he said.

Details of the discovery have been published in ZooKeys, an EU-based online biological journal, and in Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, another biological journal and in Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, another biological journal published by Singapore's Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Mr Somsak and his team discovered the earthworms during five years of studying subterranean species. He has now earned the distinction of being the top discoverer of earthworms in Asia. His team in 2011 found a new species of centipede at Similan Marine National Park in Phangnga province while working on a project to conserve plant genes, hosted by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. She later named it Sterropristes Violaceus Muadsub and Panha.

The word violaceus means purple, which is the princess's birthday colour. Its tail and head are a deep purple colour and it measures about 5cm.

The centipede has evolved uniquely because the island where it lives was cut off from the mainland several thousand years ago. It has become living evidence of how geological change can determine an animal's evolution.

Scientists call the creature a "living fossil" and a window into evolutionary processes.

The discovery of the centipede was printed in Zootaxa in 2012. The team is also waiting for a confirmation on its discovery of a long-legged centipede found in Chantaburi province and a new leech species found in a pond in Nakhon Phanom province.

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