Two species of rhinoceros have been officially reported extinct in the past two months and another is now listed as “possibly extinct in the wild,” orangutans in Borneo are on the verge of being wiped out, 40% of Madagascar’s reptiles are on the doomsday list, 25% of all mammals are endangered, 5 of 8 species of tuna are threatened, [...]
Two species of rhinoceros have been officially reported extinct in the past two months and another is now listed as “possibly extinct in the wild,” orangutans in Borneo are on the verge of being wiped out, 40% of Madagascar’s reptiles are on the doomsday list, 25% of all mammals are endangered, 5 of 8 species of tuna are threatened, and, for the first time in 75 years, an entire genus — Beatragus — is on the brink of extinction. Though in the midst of what many are calling the planet’s next mass extinction, scientists are still discovering new species on an almost daily basis.
It is estimated that there are still around five million species remaining to be discovered by science on planet earth. Recently, scientists have been recording around 18,000 new species of plants and animals each year. While much of this number are made up of invertebrates and flowering plants, these new discoveries also includes about 70 previously unknown reptiles and 400 new fish annually.
As we prepare to say goodbye to so many known species of mammals, fish, reptiles, and plants, here are a few recently discovered animals to get acquainted with:
“Albino” trapdoor spider newly discovered in Australia
According to an article by National Geographic, a resident in Western Australia found an interesting looking spider, and, instead of stomping it dead, he caught it in a jar and sent it to the Western Australian Museum.
“I nearly fell over when I saw its white head,” Mark Harvey, the museum’s curator was popularly reported as saying.
Although not a true albino as it has coloration everywhere on its body save for a big white dot on its dorsal side, the three centimeter wide spider has caused excitement in Australia’s scientific circles. Other than what it looks like, researchers know little of this new found arachnid’s behavior, but they assume it acts as other trapdoor spiders and spends most of its time in borrows — exiting only to surprise its prey or to mate. The specimen at the Western Australian museum is the only one found to date.
Two new frogs discovered in Queensland, Australia
Two new species of frog were found on the Cape York Peninsula, which sticks out like an arm from the state of Queensland in the far north of Australia. Both frogs were a boulder dwelling species which abscond into the damp depths of their rocky lyres each dry season and don’t come back out until the wet season. One frog was named the Kutini boulder frog and the other the Golden capped boulder frog, and they are both thought to have evolved separately and distinctly from each other, adapting to their immediate environments independently.
What is more interesting is that these frogs were not only unknown to science but also to the Aboriginal community who lives nearby. Australian Geographic reported that the reason why nobody has ever documented these frogs is because they hide in the dry season and the wet season makes the region virtually inaccessible.
The AAP quoted the scientist who found the frogs as saying, “it’s not often you get to discover a really distinctive new species, it’s pretty exciting.”
New species of nematode found one mile underground
Nematodes are among the planet’s most resilient species, they have been recorded as surviving space shuttle explosions and make up 90% of the life on the ocean floor. Of the 28,000 types of them that have been described, 16,000 are parasitic — a common name for the nematode is roundworm. But, until now, nobody ever dreamed of finding them where a Belgian botanist dug one up: nearly a mile underground.
While attempting to disprove a long held scientific assumption that only single cell organisms lived deep in the earth’s bedrock, the Belgian researcher began exploring the Beatrix gold mine in South Africa. One day, while peering into a microscope at samples from the mine, she found what she was looking for: a little worm squiggling about. The Belgian botanist reported that the new nematode laid 14 eggs before dying.
An “extremely long legged” beetle found in the Philippines
New species of beetle of the genus Ancyronyx has been discovered on Palawan Island in the Philippines by a team lead by Dr. Hendrik Freitag. The beetle has extremely long legs and looks like a spider. It is a type of Riffle beetle and it breathes through a microfilm of air which surrounds its body. This enables this beetle to remain permanently under water.
More information about this new beetle at Eurekalert.
Three new fish discovered in Indonesia
Three new species of fang blenny fish were discovered recently off the coast of Bali, Indonesia. They received the scientific names Meiacanthus abruptus, M. erdmanni and M. cyanopterus respectively.
Four new bee species “discovered” in New York
Four new species of bee have been found in New York State. One of them was found right in bosom of New York City at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and was aptly given the temporary name, Lasioglossum gotham. It was found during an intensive bee survey in New York City by John Ascher of the American Museum of Natural History.
The Lasioglossum gotham lives underground and is roughly a centimeter in length. “Even until very recently, they’ve been impossible to identify because they’re so small and they all look very similar,” the New York Times reported Dr. Ascher as saying.
New species bar coding and photo imaging technology had a large part in being able to identify the new bee species, the other three of which were found in downstate New York.
Most of these newly “discovered” bees have been observed before but, until now, nobody was able to identify them as being unique species.
“If you consider that we are still finding species around one of the most well-studied metropolitan areas in North America, the prospect of finding new species in other parts of the country or other parts of the globe is just enormous,” the Times quoted Gibbs as saying.
This discovery shows that you do not necessarily need to go into the belly of a rain forest or to the ends of the earth to discover new species: occasionally, the parks of your home city will suffice.
The log book of the species of planet earth is acting as a revolving door of sorts: as one species is discovered and entered in, another is crossed off as extinct. Donald Levin has proposed that every 20 minutes a species on this planet goes extinct, while every 30 minutes a new species is recorded into our collective ledger.
The fact that scientists are discovering new species nearly every day does not make up for the previously known species that are going or have gone extinct, but, under the cloud of constant wildlife catastrophes, it is good to be reminded that we still live on a very diverse planet — albeit in very fragile times.
We can only gauge the extinction rate of species we know to have existed, and this says nothing for the species that have vanished from this earth without ever checking in their profiles with science. The discovery of new species is necessary if we are ever to create a true barometer of life on this planet, and while documenting new plants and animals alone does little for preserving them, it is a big step in that direction.