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Finding new speciesBy Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com
October 21, 2010
Species discovery: how do scientists find and describe new species—and the answer to other taxonomy questions
Currently scientists have described 1.9 million species from Balaenoptera musculus (the blue whale) to Oxysternon festivum (the red dung beetle), yet conservative estimates of the number of species on Earth range anywhere from 10 to 20 million species (some estimates jump to 100 million). If bacteria are added to this list then the number of species on Earth likely jumps another 10 million or so.
The search for species is even more pressing now that scientists believe we are either entering or already in the midst of a mass extinction. Due to a variety of human driven impacts—including deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, climate change, invasive species, and overexploitation such as through bushmeat or the pet trade—species populations are falling worldwide.
But how do scientists find and describe new species?
The process of describing species
When describing a new species, scientists must collect a 'type specimen': this means a dead individual of the species. There have been a few instances where photographs including other genetic samples have been used to describe a new species successfully, and no individual is killed, but these are currently much in the minority.
Once the species is determined as new to science, researchers write a formal description of it, take photos and/or provide illustrations, and invent a new scientific name. After completing the paper, researchers then submit it to a scientific journal. The editor of the journal will circulate the new finding to other experts with those particular types of animals or plants. If the other experts agree that the new species is valid, the journal accepts the paper and the specimen officially becomes a new species. This process is long and often takes years between initial discovery and formal acceptance of the new species.
Cryptic species throw a wrench into this: these are species that look remarkably similar to another species, but are genetically unique. DNA is increasingly being used as a tool to determine new species as well as to discover the relationship between previously known species.
Finding species: where are the unknown species hiding?
If you want to earn scientific fame by discovering a new species, here are a few tips: think small, think underwater or underground, and think invertebrates and plants.
This is not to imply that all the world's large land-dwelling species have been found—just this year researchers announced the discoveries of a new species of monitor lizard that was as long as a adult human, a new monkey from the Brazilian Amazon, and a new carnivorous mammal from a lake in Madagascar—but such discoveries are more a matter of right place-right time over persistence.
While scientists still find new species in terrestrial ecosystems, a single dive to the depths of the ocean is likely to produce a new species. Cave systems have also yielded a number of new species, especially those that have only recently been explained. When it comes to types of species, insects are the most commonly discovered: thousands of new insects are found every year. Beetles are the most numerous.
History of species discovery and description
The history of species discovery and description is not only exciting—madness, exploration, untimely demise—it is also important for understanding the structure taxonomists use to describe species, for example the reason why every species is known by two Latinized names—the scientific name—one representing the genus and the other the species.
While the effort to categorize species stretches far back in history—Aristotle attempted it—today's modern system of categorizing and naming species largely stems from 18th Century Swedish scientist, Carl Linnaeus. In two seminal works—Species Plantarum and Systema Naturae—Linnaeus outlined the hierarchal structure employed today for classifying species. Latin was the language of choice, because it was dead and therefore fixed. Within his works, Linnaeus classified thousands of plants and animals from all around the world with Latinized names.
But Linnaeus didn't just build a structure to categorize species that would last to present-day, he was also instrumental in pushing the science of taxonomy further. As one of the most influential scientists of his day, Linnaeus chose and funded young biologist to travel the world, find new species, and return to him with specimens. These students have come to be known as 'the apostles of Linnaeus'. Seven of these 'apostles' died on their explorations, a couple went mad or became addicts, but many brought home species from as far away as China, South Africa, and the Amazon.
While Linnaeus, with help from his traveling apostles, began the formal and large-scale effort to describe the world's life-forms, it has, of course, changed considerably in over two hundred years. When biologists refer to species today they often give the year of the species' formal description and the scientist who described it. For example, the well-known panda bear is Ailuropoda melanoleuca David, 1869.
Also contemporary scientists categorize a species according to where it fits in the evolutionary tree, a concept that would have been unknown to Linnaeus as he developed his system over a hundred years before Darwin outlined the theory of evolution. In other words, animals that share the same genus are more closely related in evolutionary terms than animals that share only the same family.
Instead of relying on five classifications, as Linnaeus did, researchers have developed a seven rung hierarchy to describe a unique life form: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. For example, the tiger, which was described by Linnaeus, is classified in descending order as anamalia (animal), chordate (vertebrates), mammalia (mammals), carnivore (carnivores or mostly meat-eaters), felidae (cats), panthera (cats that roar), and tigris (the tiger). The tiger is additionally further separated into six surviving subspecies and three extinct subspecies.
Subspecies are a puzzling and at times difficult classification that establishes when a species has clearly splintered into distinct populations, usually geographically separated, but has not yet evolved far enough from each other to be considered separate species. One could think of a subspecies as unconnected populations: in other words the distinct populations would interbreed if they could, yet something—most often a physical barrier—is making interbreeding impossible. Debates over whether or not an animal is a unique species or simply a subspecies can be complex, rowdy, and linger for decades. This is because the debate over subspecies and species has real-world consequences: subspecies are rarely given conservation attention and funding. One example of a subspecies in flux is the forest elephant from the African Congo. The forest elephant is considered by some scientists to be distinct enough from the African elephant to be considered its own species, others, however, claim it is only a subspecies. If the forest elephant was accepted as a species today, the effort to save it from extinction would likely gain sudden life and an influx of funding. On the other side, if too many 'subspecies' are upgraded without cause, conservationists worry it could 'cheapen' the idea of a species.
Articles on recent species discoveries
New species of monitor lizards found on the black market
(03/27/2015) Searching the globe for undiscovered species takes biologists to far and remote locations, trekking through exotic locales that may yield a new discovery. However, exploring the black market can also produce results. And this is just the case for Rafe Brown, curator of the University Of Kansas (KU) Biodiversity Institute, during a recent visit to the Philippines. In a black market in Manila, Brown and his colleagues discovered two new species of water monitor lizard for sale.
Photos: expedition to Amazon’s white sands may have found new primate
(03/24/2015) Most people think of the Amazon rainforest as one massive, homogenous ecosystem—a giant castle of green. However, within the Amazon rainforest lie a myriad of distinct ecosystems, sporting unique characteristics and harboring endemic species. One of the rarer ecosystems in the Amazon is the white sands forest.
New wormy amphibians discovered in Southeast Asia
(03/13/2015) Worms come in all different sizes, shapes, textures, colors, and flavors. Some attack human digestive systems, some surface after a rainstorm, and some come in plastic wrappers, covered in sour sugar, at the local grocery store. Despite their similar features and anatomies, many of the real worms (not the sugar kind) demonstrate convergent evolution, meaning they are not related but have independently evolved similar features.
Newly discovered Brazilian bird may number fewer than 10 individuals
(03/12/2015) In October 2002, a team of ornithologists at Murici in northeastern Brazil observed and recorded the call of a bird. At that time, the team believed they had chanced upon a rare bird previously described by other researchers as the Alagaos foliage-gleaner (Philydor novasei).
Newly described monkey species found in threatened Amazon forest
(03/06/2015) In 2011, Julio César Dalponte noticed a peculiar looking titi monkey on the bank of the Roosevelt River in Mato Grasso, Brazil. Titi monkeys, genus Callicebus, are common throughout South America, but this one had a flaming orange tail, light gray forehead stripe and ochre sideburns, which didn’t match any known titi species.
New bird species confirmed in Sulawesi 15 years after first sighting
(03/06/2015) Although it’s a hotspot of avian biodiversity, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has been “poorly studied ornithologically,” according to a study published in the scientific journal PloS one. Case in point: the subject of the study, a new species of flycatcher first observed in 1997 but not formally described by scientists until November 2014.
Madagascar’s frog haven: rich, underexplored, threatened
(03/04/2015) Madagascar is a treasure trove of frogs. Located off the east coast of Africa, this large island nation has more than 500 species of frogs, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. Much of Madagascar’s rich biodiversity remains understudied. As researchers comb through the country’s forests, they continue to discover previously undescribed species of frogs, adding to Madagascar’s amphibian diversity.
One of Brazil’s rarest primates still holds out in single patch of rainforest
(02/26/2015) For many years, particularly after renowned naturalist Philip Hershkovitz of the Field Museum in Chicago published his valuable taxonomy of Neotropical Primates, Saimiri vanzolinii was considered to be a mere subspecies of the larger Bolivian squirrel monkey (Saimiri boliviensis). Today, it has the distinction of being one of the most range-restricted primates in all of the Neotropics.
Scientists uncover new seadragon
(02/18/2015) For 150 years, scientists have known of just two so-called seadragons: the leafy seadragon and the weedy seadragon. But a new paper in the Royal Society Open Science has announced the discovery of a third, dubbed the ruby seadragon for its incredible bright-red coloring. Found only off the southern Australian coastline, seadragons belong to the same family as the more familiar seahorses: the Syngnathidae.
Recently discovered, critically endangered bird gets its first reserve
(02/10/2015) In an 11-square mile strip of forest on the slopes of a plateau in northeastern Brazil lives an entire species, considered by scientists to be one of the most endangered birds in the world. Now, 18 years after it was first discovered by scientists, conservation groups have acquired 140 acres of land to establish the first-ever reserve for the Araripe manakin.
New bat species has fangs you won't believe
(01/08/2015) What big teeth you have, my dear! The better to eat insects with—and make one's own ecological niche. Scientists have uncovered a new bat with stupendous canines in the rainforests of Lao PDR and Vietnam, aptly naming it Hypsugo dolichodon, or the long-toothed pipistrelle.
The biggest new species discoveries in 2014 (photos)
(12/22/2014) Biologists describe upwards of 15,000 previously undocumented species every year. Some of these species are complete surprises, sometimes representing new genera. Others may be identified after genetic analysis distinguishes them from closely-related species. Some — especially conspicuous birds and mammals — are already known to local populations, but hadn't been formally described by scientists.
Pictures: the top new animal discoveries of 2014
(12/20/2014) Seemingly every year scientists set a new record with the number of species they describe. 2014 will be no exception. Below are some of the 'new species' highlights from the past year. The list includes species whose descriptions were first published in 2014. Some of the 'discoveries' occurred in years prior.
New poison dart frog needs immediate conservation plan
(12/15/2014) It was a surprising discovery in an unlikely location. In a leaf litter nearly four inches deep under a dense canopy of rainforest trees, researchers Marcos Ponce and Abel Batista with the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí worked to complete an inventory of endangered species in Panama's Isthmian-Atlantic moist forest. But they were both completely unsuspecting of what they were about to find: a new poison dart frog.
New pit viper discovered in Sumatra
(12/10/2014) A new pit viper was discovered by researchers working in Sumatra, Indonesia. The viper, named Trimeresurus gunaleni, was identified by the researchers while they were studying a group of Trimeresurus sumanatrus, first described by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1822.
To collect or not to collect? Experts debate the need for specimens
(12/10/2014) In 1912, a group of intrepid explorers led by Rollo and Ida Beck, widely acknowledged to be the foremost marine bird collectors of their time, embarked on a most remarkable effort to catalogue South America's oceanic birds. Museums of the day held opportunistically collected specimens from scattered sources, but rarely did these include ocean-bound birds that spent little time near the coast.
Striking new gecko discovered in Thailand
(12/09/2014) A research team based in western Thailand has discovered a new gecko species in the Kanchanaburi Province, a region renowned for its number of species found nowhere else in the world. A recent publication describes the Sai Yok bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus saiyok), the sixth reptile species endemic to the region known to science.
New endangered bird species discovered in Brazil
(12/04/2014) The Bahian mouse-colored tapaculo (Scytalopus gonzagai) has only just been discovered by scientists in the heavily logged Atlantic Forest of southeast Brazil -- and it’s already believed to be endangered.
New gecko described in Madagascar
(11/16/2014) Researchers have described a previously undocumented species of gecko in Madagascar.
New tapir? Scientists dispute biological discovery of the century
(11/13/2014) Nearly a year ago, scientists announced an incredible discovery: a new tapir species from the western Amazon in Brazil and Colombia. The announcement was remarkable for a number of reasons: this was the biggest new land mammal discovered in more than 20 years and was only the fifth tapir known to the world. But within months other researchers expressed doubt over the veracity of the new species.
Mapping mistake leaves wildlife at risk
(11/12/2014) Scientists have discovered a new, endangered plant species in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in an area that is supposed to be protected as a reserve. However, mapping errors effectively moved the reserve’s boundaries 50 kilometers to the west, opening up the region and its vulnerable wildlife to human disturbance.
The Search for Lost Frogs: one of conservation's most exciting expeditions comes to life in new book
(10/30/2014) One of the most exciting conservation initiatives in recent years was the Search for Lost Frogs in 2010. The brainchild of scientist, photographer, and frog-lover, Robin Moore, the initiative brought a sense of hope—and excitement—to a whole group of animals often ignored by the global public—and media outlets. Now, Moore has written a fascinating account of the expedition: In Search of Lost Frogs.
Top scientists raise concerns over commercial logging on Woodlark Island
(10/21/2014) A number of the world's top conservation scientists have raised concerns about plans for commercial logging on Woodlark Island, a hugely biodiverse rainforest island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The scientists, with the Alliance of Leading Environmental Scientists and Thinkers (ALERT), warn that commercial logging on the island could imperil the island's stunning local species and its indigenous people.
Scientists find temperate bat in the hot tropics of the Western Ghats (photos)
(10/15/2014) The Western Ghats is one of the world’s eight richest biodiversity hotspots. A UNESCO World Heritage site, and also known as the Great Escarpment of India, the Ghats run parallel to India’s west coast. This great ecosystem is home to over 139 mammal species, nearly 50 of which are bats. And now scientists can add a new bat to this list: one that until now had only been documented from temperate regions.
New species named after the struggle for same-sex marriage
(10/13/2014) Scientists have named new species after celebrities, fictional characters, and even the corporations that threaten a species' very existence, but a new snail may be the first to be named after a global human rights movement: the on-going struggle for same-sex marriage. Scientists have named the new Taiwanese land snail, Aegista diversifamilia, meaning diverse human families.
Scientists uncover six potentially new species in Peru, including bizarre aquatic mammal (photos)
(09/25/2014) A group of Peruvian and Mexican scientists say they have uncovered at least six new species near South America's most famous archaeological site: Machu Picchu. The discoveries include a new mammal, a new lizard, and four new frogs. While the scientists are working on formally describing the species, they have released photos and a few tantalizing details about the new discoveries.
Extinction island? Plans to log half an island could endanger over 40 species
(09/22/2014) Woodlark Island is a rare place on the planet today. This small island off the coast Papua New Guinea is still covered in rich tropical forest, an ecosystem shared for thousands of years between tribal peoples and a plethora of species, including at least 42 found no-where else. Yet, like many such wildernesses, Woodlark Island is now facing major changes: not the least of them is a plan to log half of the island.
Scientists uncover five new species of 'toupee' monkeys in the Amazon
(09/02/2014) While saki monkeys may be characterized by floppy mops of hair that resemble the worst of human toupees, these acrobatic, tree-dwelling primates are essential for dispersing seeds. After long being neglected by both scientists and conservationists, a massive research effort by one intrepid researcher has revealed the full-scale of saki monkey diversity, uncovering five new species.
Saving the Atlantic Forest would cost less than 'Titanic'
(08/28/2014) Want to save the world's most imperiled biodiversity hotspot? You just need a down payment of $198 million. While that may sound like a lot, it's actually less than it cost to make the film, Titanic. A new study published today in Science finds that paying private landowners to protect the Atlantic Forest would cost Brazil just 6.5 percent of what it currently spends ever year on agricultural subsidies.
Scientists honor missing activist by naming a spider after him
(08/25/2014) Swiss researchers have honored the memory of a missing indigenous peoples activist by naming an undescribed species of spider after him, reports the Bruno Manser Fund, the group he founded.
Scientists name new endangered species after the company that will decide its fate
(08/24/2014) Scientists have discovered a new snail species near a cement quarry in Malaysia, which as far as they know lives nowhere else in the world. It lives on a limestone hill called Kanthan given as a concession to an international company Lafarge. The cement producer quarries the hill for raw materials. As a result, the scientists have named the species after the company that will decide if it goes extinct.
New skeleton frog from Madagascar is already Critically Endangered
(08/20/2014) Sometimes all it takes is fewer clicks. Scientists have discovered a new species of frog from Madagascar that stuck out because it "clicked" less during calls than similar species. Unfortunately the scientists believe the new species—dubbed the Ankarafa skeleton frog—is regulated to a single patch of forest, which, despite protected status, remains hugely threatened.
Google Earth spurs discovery of a 'new' chameleon species
(08/17/2014) Google Earth has spurred the discovery of another new species. In this case, the creature is a pygmy chameleon, one of four previously unknown Rhampholeon chameleon species described from the remote ‘sky islands’ in Mozambique. The Mount Mabu pygmy chameleon was discovered after Google Earth images of a tract of forest led Julian Bayliss to launch a scientific expedition to the region.
Titanium vs. Millipedes: new species discovered in Madagascar threatened by mining
(08/13/2014) A team of scientists from the United States and Germany has recently described seven new species of Malagasy giant pill-millipede. All but one of these species are considered “microendemics,” in that they have only been found in small, isolated forest patches.
Yellow spots, orange stripes: vivid new frog species discovered in Malaysia
(08/05/2014) Scientists have identified a new species of frog on the Malay Peninsula. The newly named Hylorana centropeninsularis was discovered in a swamp and genetic analyses revealed that it is evolutionarily distinct from its stream-dwelling cousins.
Scientists catalog the world's 10,000th reptile
(08/04/2014) As of this year, scientists have named and described over 10,000 reptiles, marking a new milestone in cataloging one of the most diverse vertebrate groups. Last week, the Reptile Database, an online catalog of all the world's living reptiles, announced it had passed 10,000 species.
87 new bird species considered threatened with extinction
(07/29/2014) Scientists have added 361 new bird species to the IUCN Red List following a major taxonomic review of non-passerine birds, i.e. non-perching or non-songbirds. Worryingly, 87 of these new birds are threatened with extinction, a percentage nearly double the overall threatened percentage for all birds, which currently sits at 13 percent.
Rare bird paradise protected in war-torn Colombian mountain range (photos)
(07/22/2014) A coalition of conservation groups have established a new protected area in one of Latin America's most neglected ecosystems: the Colombian-side of the Serranía de Perijá mountain range. Following decades of bloody conflict and rampant deforestation, experts say only five percent of rainforest is left on the Colombian side of this embattled mountain range.
Setting the stage: theater troupe revives tradition to promote conservation in DRC
(07/22/2014) Two years ago, environmental artist Roger Peet set off to the Democratic Republic of Congo to support the new Lomami National Park with bandanas that he designed. This time, Peet is back in Congo to carry out a conservation theater project in remote villages near the proposed Lomami National Park.
Horror movie bugs: new wasp species builds nest with the bodies of dead ants
(07/02/2014) If ants made horror movies this is probably what it would look like: mounds of murdered ants sealed up in a cell. The villain of the piece—at least from the perspective of the ants—is a new species of spider wasp, which scientists have aptly dubbed the bone-house wasp (Deuteragenia ossarium) in a paper released today in PLOS ONE.
Super cute, but tiny, elephant-relative discovered in Namibia
(06/30/2014) Forget marsupials, the world's strangest group of mammals are actually those in the Afrotheria order. This superorder of mammals contains a motley crew that at first glance seems to have nothing in common: from elephants to rodent-sized sengi. Last week, scientists announced the newest, and arguably cutest, member of Atrotheria: the Etendeka round-eared sengi.
Scientists discover carnivorous water rat in Indonesia, good example of convergent evolution
(06/19/2014) Researchers have discovered a new carnivorous water rat on the island of Sulawesi that's so unique it represents an entirely new genus. They believe many more new rodent species await discovery in this relatively undisturbed part of Indonesia, but mining and other types of development may threaten vital habitat before it’s even surveyed.
Researchers discover new species of wolf snake in Cambodia, name it after an Australian zoo
(06/16/2014) A new species of wolf snake has been discovered in the Cardamom Mountains of southeast Cambodia.
New species has its anus behind its head
(06/09/2014) In the dark caves of southern Indiana in the United States, scientists have discovered a new species of cavefish that are blind, pinkish, and have their anus behind their heads. This peculiar new cavefish is the first to be described in North America in 40 years, and researchers have named it Amblyopsis hoosieri or Hoosier cavefish.
Colorful bird on remote Indonesian islands should be classified as distinct species, say scientists
(06/04/2014) A colorful bird found on the Wakatobi islands south of Sulawesi in Indonesia is sufficiently distinct from birds in nearby areas to be classified as a unique species, argue scientists writing in the current issue of the open-access journal PLoS ONE.
Newly discovered snails at risk of extinction
(06/03/2014) A team of Dutch and Malaysian scientists has recently completed one part of a taxonomic revision of Plectostoma, a genus of tiny land snails in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, according to their article published recently in ZooKeys, it seems that these animals may be going extinct as fast as they are being discovered.
Emerald-faced reptile discovered in Ecuador
(05/23/2014) Researchers have discovered a colorful lizard species in the cloud forests of northwestern Ecuador.
Olinguito, tinkerbell, and a dragon: meet the top 10 new species of 2013
(05/22/2014) Out of around 18,000 new species described and named last year, scientists have highlighted ten in an effort to raise awareness about the imperiled biodiversity around us. Each species—from a teddy-bear-like carnivore in the Andes to a microbe that survives clean rooms where spaceships are built—stands out from the crowd for one reason or another.
Dancing frogs: scientists discover 14 new species in India (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
(05/16/2014) Scientists have discovered 14 new species of frogs in the mountainous tropical forests of India’s Western Ghats, all of which are described in a recent study published in the Ceylon Journal of Science. The new species are all from a single genus, and are collectively referred to as “dancing frogs” due to the unusual courtship behavior of the males.
Scientists uncover new marine mammal genus, represented by single endangered species
(05/14/2014) This is the story of three seals: the Caribbean, the Hawaiian, and the Mediterranean monk seals. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the Caribbean monk seal was a hugely abundant marine mammal found across the Caribbean, and even recorded by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage, whose men killed several for food.
The Harry Potter wasp: public votes to name new species after soul-sucking ghouls
(05/05/2014) Whether a die-hard Harry Potter fan or not, you probably know what dementors are. They were the guards of Azkaban —dark hooded evil beings that sucked the soul out of their victims, leaving them alive but 'empty-shelled.' These fictional creatures now share their name with a new species of cockroach wasp, insects that turn cockroaches into zombies.
Will they hold on? Three new gecko species found in threatened habitat
(05/02/2014) Malaysia is set to lose ancient limestone formations to quarrying despite the discovery of new species of geckos in the area. The species are described in three studies recently published in the journal Zootaxa. One of the discoveries, Cyrtodactylus metropolis, is the first endemic vertebrate species discovered in the Batu Caves area.
Fish-terrorizing, prehistoric-looking turtle actually three species
(04/30/2014) So, you're a fish swimming in a river in Louisiana. Hungry, you see a little worm wiggling out from the river bed. You swoop in for the ambush only to have that little worm turn into the gaping maw of some prehistoric-looking monster out of fishy nightmares. You've been duped: it's too late to escape as the beast's jagged jaws close over you. Meet the alligator snapping turtle...or one of several species.
Loggers plan to clear 20 percent of tropical island paradise
(04/28/2014) Seven years ago, a palm oil company set its eyes on Woodlark Island—a small rainforest island nearly 200 miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea—but was rebuked by the local populace. But locals and conservationists who spoke to mongabay.com at the time felt that wouldn't be the end of it: they were right. Recently, a company, Karridale Limited, has landed machinery on the island.
Game of thorns: colorful, spiky tree frog discovered in Vietnam
(04/25/2014) Evening fog settled quickly on Mount Ngoc Linh, as the steady drone of cicadas and crickets took up their usual nighttime chorus. The night calm was broken by sudden crashing through the thick bamboo stands and excited voices. High in this isolated cloud forest in central Vietnam, researchers had come upon the first thorny tree frog known to science.
New relative of the 'penis snake' discovered in Myanmar
(04/17/2014) Scientists have discovered a new species of limbless amphibians, known as caecilians, in Myanmar. Dubbing the species, the colorful ichthyophis (Ichthyophis multicolor), the researchers describe the new amphibian in a recent paper published in Zootaxa. The world's most famous caecilian is the so-called penis snake (Atretochoana eiselti) which was rediscovered in Brazil in 2011.
Weird and mysterious: scientists find new shark species
(04/16/2014) A long snout with teeth jutting from the sides? Check. Catfish-like barbels dangling from its chin? Got them. Gills on the side of its body? It has those, too. These are characteristics of a bizarre group of sharks known as sawsharks. And until recently, only seven species were recognized. However, a new discovery raises that number by one more.
Scientist discovers a plethora of new praying mantises (pictures)
(03/19/2014) Despite their pacific name, praying mantises are ferocious top predators with powerful, grasping forelimbs; spiked legs; and mechanistic jaws. In fact, imagine a tiger that can rotate its head 180 degrees or a great white that blends into the waves and you'll have a sense of why praying mantises have developed a reputation. Yet, many praying mantis species remain little known to scientists, according to a new paper in ZooKeys that identifies an astounding 19 new species from the tropical forests of Central and South America.
Several Amazonian tree frog species discovered, where only two existed before
(03/18/2014) We have always been intrigued by the Amazon rainforest with its abundant species richness and untraversed expanses. Despite our extended study of its wildlife, new species such as the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), a bear-like carnivore hiding out in the Ecuadorian rainforest, are being identified as recently as last year. In fact, the advent of efficient DNA sequencing and genomic analysis has revolutionized how we think about species diversity. Today, scientists can examine known diversity in a different way, revealing multiple 'cryptic' species that have evaded discovery by being mistakenly classified as a single species based on external appearance alone.
Photos: Weird aquatic lizard discovered in mountain streams of Peru
(03/13/2014) A 'new' species of lizard has been described from the cloud forests of Peru's Manu National Park, reports SERNANP, the Peruvian National Park Service.
Scientists uncover new species of Andean marsupial frog
(03/05/2014) The term marsupial frog sound like a hoax, but, believe it or not, it's real. Recently, herpetologists welcomed a new species, known as Gastrotheca dysprosita and described in the journal Phyllomedusa. Unlike mammal marsupials, which typically carry their young in pouches on their torsos and are found primarily in Australia, the Gastrotheca genus of frogs, which contains 62 species, is found in the Andes region on South America and sport their pouches on their backs (also called a "dorsal brood pouch").
Two new wasp species found hidden in museum collections
(02/24/2014) Scientists have identified two new wasp species, years after the specimens were first collected from the wild. The two new species, Abernessia prima and Abernessia capixaba, belong to the rare pompilid genus Abernessia, and are believed to be endemic to Brazil. They made the discovery while examining spider wasp collections from museums in Brazil and Denmark, and published their findings in the journal ZooKeys.
Scientists discover new gecko hanging-on in single forest fragment
(02/17/2014) Scientists have identified a new species of day gecko that is the largest in its genus (Cnemaspis) to be found in Sri Lanka. To date, it has been observed only within the Rammalakanda Reserve in southern Sri Lanka, an area spanning just 1,700 hectares, raising questions about the viability of this population and hence the species' long-term prospects.
Scientists discover new whale species
(02/14/2014) Beaked whales are incredibly elusive and rare, little-known to scientists and the public alike—although some species are three times the size of an elephant. Extreme divers, beaked whales have been recorded plunging as deep as 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) for over an hour. Few of the over 20 species are well-known by researchers, but now scientists have discovered a new beaked whale to add to the already large, and cryptic, group: the pointed beaked whale (Mesoplodon hotaula).
Scientists discover new eagle ray imperiled by Japanese pest program (photos)
(01/30/2014) Scientists have described a new species of eagle ray in the northwest Pacific Ocean, which they have named "narutobiei" (Aetobatus narutobiei) after its local name in Japan. While the new species has long been known by scientists, it was clumped together with the longheaded eagle ray (Aetobatus flagellum) for over two hundred years. Splitting the two species has large-scale conservation impacts, according to the paper describing the new species in PLOS ONE.
Amazing discovery in Antarctica: sea anemones found living upside down under ice (photos)
(01/27/2014) Sea anemones are supposed to sit on the bottom of the ocean, using their basal disc (or adhesive foot) to rest on a coral reef orsand. So, imagine the surprise of geologists in Antarctica when they discovered a mass of sea anemones hanging upside from the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf like a village of wispy ghosts. The researchers weren't even there to discover new life, but to learn about south pole currents through the Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) Program via a remotely-operated undersea robot.
New dolphin discovered in the Amazon surprises scientists
(01/23/2014) Researchers have discovered a new species of river dolphin from the Amazon. Writing in the journal Plos One, scientists led by Tomas Hrbek of Brazil's Federal University of Amazonas formally describe Inia araguaiaensis, a freshwater dolphin that inhabits the Araguaia River Basin. It is the first true river dolphin discovered since 1918.
New frog species discovered on tallest mountain in Indochina
(01/22/2014) A team of Australian and Vietnamese researchers recently discovered a new species of frog in the high elevations of Vietnam’s Mount Fansipan, according to a new paper in Zootaxa. The amphibian was named Botsford’s leaf-litter frog (Leptolalax botsfordi) as a tribute to Christopher Botsford for his role in amphibian biodiversity research in Asia.
One lizard, four species: the collared treerunner
(01/21/2014) Now, that’s a horse of a different color. Or, in this case, a lizard of another species--four species. Recent research suggests that the collared treerunner (Plica plica), previously thought of as one widespread species, is actually four distinct species inhabiting diverse geographical areas east of the Andes in northern South America.
Spectacular new beetle discovered in French Guiana
(01/21/2014) The discovery of a new, bi-colored beetle species in the lowland rainforest of French Guiana just added a little pizzazz to the ranks of the Pseudomorphini tribe of beetles. With wing cases (elytra) that sport black spots against a rusty red background, the newcomer was dubbed Guyanemorpha spectabilis, or the spectacular Guyane false-form beetle, by entomologist Terry Erwin in the journal ZooKeys.
Red toad discovered in the upper reaches of the Amazon
(01/19/2014) Scientists have described a previously unknown species of toad in the Peruvian Andes.
Scientists uncover new crocodile in Africa
(01/07/2014) Scientists working in Africa have uncovered a new crocodile species hiding in plain site, according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Looking at the molecular data of the slender-snouted crocodile, the researchers discovered two distinct species: one in West Africa and another in Central Africa. Although mostly lumped together as one species (Mecistops cataphractus) for over a hundred and fifty years, the scientists found that the two species have actually been split for at least seven million years, well before the evolution of hominins.
Rainforest news review for 2013
(12/26/2013) 2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.
Biggest new animal discoveries of 2013 (photos)
(12/23/2013) Thousands of species were scientifically described for the first time in 2013. Many of these were 'cryptic species' that were identified after genetic analysis distinguished them from closely-related species, while others were totally novel. Below are some of the most interesting "new species" discoveries that took place or were formally announced in 2013.
Scientists discover a new coral in the French Polynesia
(12/20/2013) With humans scattered throughout the globe, it is hard to imagine lands still unexplored or species undocumented. Yet, on the remote French Polynesian Gambier Islands a new coral reef species has been found thriving in underwater lagoons. Echinophyllia tarae was discovered by marine biologist Francesca Benzoni and the research crew members of the Tara Oceans International Research Expedition.
New marsupial discovered in Ecuador
(12/20/2013) Researchers working in Ecuador have identified a previously unknown species of shrew-opossum, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Mammalogy. Contrary to its mousey appearance, Caenolestes sangay, named after the national park where it was discovered, is actually a marsupial. The team from Pacific Lutheran University set up more than 100 live traps over 15 nights on the eastern slopes of Andes. In the course of their research they recovered five specimens of the new species, each measuring approximately 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) long.
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013
(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.
Scientists make one of the biggest animal discoveries of the century: a new tapir
(12/16/2013) In what will likely be considered one of the biggest (literally) zoological discoveries of the Twenty-First Century, scientists today announced they have discovered a new species of tapir in Brazil and Colombia. The new mammal, hidden from science but known to local indigenous tribes, is actually one of the biggest animals on the continent, although it's still the smallest living tapir. Described in the Journal of Mammology, the scientists have named the new tapir Tapirus kabomani after the name for 'tapir' in the local Paumari language: Arabo kabomani.
New mountain porcupine discovered in Brazil (photos)
(12/09/2013) In Brazil's Baturite Mountains, scientists have uncovered a new species of prehensile-tailed porcupine, according to a new paper in Revista Nordestina de Biologia. Dubbed, the Baturite porcupine (Coendou baturitensis), the new species was discovered when scientists noticed significant differences between it and its closest relative, the Brazilian porcupine (Coendou prehensilis). The name prehensile-tailed refers to these porcupines long, mobile tail which they use as a fifth limb to adroitly climb trees.
Sky islands: exploring East Africa's last frontier
(12/04/2013) The montane rainforests of East Africa are little-known to the global public. The Amazon and Congo loom much larger in our minds, while the savannas of East Africa remain the iconic ecosystems for the region. However these ancient, biodiverse forests—sitting on the tops of mountains rising from the African savanna—are home to some remarkable species, many found only in a single forest. A team of international scientists—Michele Menegon, Fabio Pupin, and Simon Loader—have made it their mission to document the little-known reptiles and amphibians in these so-called sky islands, many of which are highly imperiled.
Scientists discover new cat species roaming Brazil
(11/27/2013) As a family, cats are some of the most well-studied animals on Earth, but that doesn't mean these adept carnivores don't continue to surprise us. Scientists have announced today the stunning discovery of a new species of cat, long-confused with another. Looking at the molecular data of small cats in Brazil, researchers found that the tigrina—also known as the oncilla in Central America—is actually two separate species. The new species has been dubbed Leopardus guttulus and is found in the Atlantic Forest of southern Brazil, while the other Leopardus tigrinus is found in the cerrado and Caatinga ecosystems in northeastern Brazil.
Canopy crusade: world's highest network of camera traps keeps an eye on animals impacted by gas project
(11/21/2013) Oil, gas, timber, gold: the Amazon rainforest is rich in resources, and their exploitation is booming. As resource extraction increases, so does the development of access roads and pipelines. These carve their way through previously intact forest, thereby interrupting the myriad pathways of the species that live there. For species that depend on the rainforest canopy, this can be particularly problematic.
New bat species discovered in Brazil leaves another at risk
(11/15/2013) A team of researchers has discovered a new species of bat in Brazil, which has put a previously known species, Bokermann's nectar bat (Lonchophylla bokermanni), at risk of extinction. Long thought to comprise one species, the bat populations of the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado – the tropical savannah of Brazil's interior - are in fact distinct from one another, according to a new study in Zootaxa. Scientists now say the Atlantic Forest's population represents a newly described species, which they have dubbed Peracchi's nectar bat (Lonchophylla peracchii).
Newly discovered beetles construct private homes out of leaf holes and feces
(11/12/2013) Scientists have discovered two new species of leaf beetles in southern India that display a novel way of using leaf holes and their fecal pellets to build shelters – a nesting behavior previously not known among leaf beetles. Discovered in the forests of the Western Ghats in the states of Karnataka and Kerala, the scientists have named these pin-head sized leaf beetles Orthaltica syzygium and Orthaltica terminalia, after the plants they feed on: Syzygium species (e.g., the Java plum) and Terminalia species (e.g., the flowering murdah).
Five new, cryptic bats discovered in Senegal
(11/11/2013) An international research team led by Daurina Koubinova has discovered five new species of vesper bats during a series of expeditions to Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park. The new species are considered cryptic, because their genetic makeup is different despite physical similarities. The new bats have yet to be named.
Adorable baby olinguito photographed in Colombia (picture)
(11/01/2013) Researchers returning from an expedition to a cloud forest in Colombia have released photos of the world's most recently-discovered carnivore, the olinguito.
DNA tests reveal new dolphin species (photos)
(10/30/2013) With the help of DNA tests, scientists have declared a new dolphin species that dwells off the coast of northern Australia. The discovery was made after a team of researchers looked at the world's humpback dolphins (in the genus Sousa), which sport telltale humps just behind their dorsal fins. While long-known to science, the new, as-yet-unnamed species was previously lumped with other humpback dolphins in the Indo-Pacific region.
New species of beetle discovered in megacity
(10/30/2013) When imagining the discovery of a new species, most people conjure thoughts of intrepid explorers, battling the odds in remote rainforests. But this needn't be the case, at least according to a new study published in Zookeys. The study reports the discovery of a new species of water beetle in the heart of the 10th largest megacity in the world: Manila, Philippines.
'Lost' bird rediscovered in New Caledonia along with 16 potentially new species (photos)
(10/29/2013) In early 2011, Conservation International (CI) dubbed the forests of New Caledonia the second-most imperiled in the world after those on mainland Southeast Asia. Today, CI has released the results of a biodiversity survey under the group's Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) to New Caledonia's tallest mountain, Mount Panié. During the survey researchers rediscovered the 'lost' crow honeyeater and possibly sixteen new or recently-described species. Over 20 percent larger than Connecticut, New Caledonia is a French island east of Australia in the Pacific Ocean.
New to science: 2 lizards, 1 frog discovered on Australian expedition (pictures)
(10/28/2013) Researchers from James Cook University and National Geographic discovered three new herp species — a cryptic leaf-tail gecko, a colorful skink, and a frog — during an expedition to northeastern Australia. The species are described in three papers published in October in the journal Zootaxa.
Pictures: 441 new species described in the Amazon rainforest since 2010
(10/25/2013) Scientists described at least 441 previously unknown species from Amazon rainforest between 2010 and 2013, according a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Scientist splits Amazonian giants into separate species
(10/23/2013) It's hard to mistake an arapaima for anything else: these massive, heavily-armored, air-breathing fish (they have to surface every few minutes) are the megafauna of the Amazon's rivers. But despite their unmistakability, and the fact that they have been hunted by indigenous people for millennia, scientists still know relatively little about arapaima, including just how many species there are. Since the mid-Nineteenth Century, scientists have lumped all arapaima into one species: Arapaima gigas. However, two recent studies in Copeia split the arapaimas into at least five total species—and more may be coming.
Yeti may be undescribed bear species
(10/20/2013) The purported Yeti, an ape-like creature that walks upright and roams the remote Himalayas, may in fact be an ancient polar bear species, according to new DNA research by Bryan Sykes with Oxford University. Sykes subjected two hairs from what locals say belonged to the elusive Yeti only to discover that the genetics matched a polar bear jawbone found in Svalbard, Norway dating from around 120,000 (though as recent as 40,000 years ago).
Scientists discover cocoa frog and 60 other new species in remote Suriname (photos)
(10/11/2013) In one of the most untouched and remote rainforests in the world, scientists have discovered some sixty new species, including a chocolate-colored frog and a super-mini dung beetle. The species were uncovered in Southeastern Suriname during a Rapid Assessment Program (RAP); run by Conservation International (CI), RAPS involve sending teams of specialists into little-known ecosystems to record as much biodiversity as they can in a short time. In this case, sixteen researchers from around the world had about three weeks to document the region's biodiversity.
4 new species of legless lizards discovered in California
(09/18/2013) Four previously unknown species of legless lizard have been described in California, report researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and Cal State-Fullerton.
23rd new bird species of 2013 discovered
(09/18/2013) A ground-warbler from the Philippines is the twenty-third species of bird described in 2013.
Video: scientists discover new walking shark species in Indonesia
(09/11/2013) A species of shark that uses its fins to 'walk' along the bottom of the ocean floor has been discovered off the coast of Indonesia. The shark, Hemiscyllium halmahera, uses its fins to wiggle along the seabed and forage for small fish and crustaceans, scientists from Conservation International said on Friday.
Featured video: 'this is day one for the olinguito'
(09/04/2013) Last month scientists unveiled a remarkable discovery: a new mammal in the order Carnivora (even though it mostly lives off fruits) in the Andean cloud forests. This was the first new mammal from that order in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s. The olinguito had long been mistaken for its closest relatives, olingos—small tree-dwelling mammals that inhabit the lowland rainforests of South and Central America—however genetic research showed the olinguito had actually been separated by 3-4 million years from its cousins.
Finding a needle in a haystack: two new species of octocorals discovered in the Pacific Ocean
(09/04/2013) The vast expanse of the Earth's oceans makes finding a new species like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact, finding a needle in a haystack may be easier than finding a new species of octocoral in the Pacific Ocean. But Gary Williams with the California Academy of Sciences has recently found not only one but two new species, including a new genus of octocoral.
Meet the BABY olinguito
(08/18/2013) Since its announcement on Thursday, the olinguito—the world's newest mammal—has taken the world by storm. Hundreds of articles have been written about the new species, while its cuddly appearance has already been made the subject of cartoons. Now, conservationists have released the first photos of a baby olinguito. The new photos come from La Mesenia Conservation Project in Colombia, an Andean cloud forest reserve that is a project area for the NGO SavingSpecies.
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