- Education and Science
Recently Discovered Species
Every year tens of thousands of new species of living and previously living things are found and cataloged on this planet, and recent years have been no different. From tiny insects to huge flying reptiles, here are a few of the many newly discovered species.
The New in the Old
In southern Brazil, the bones of a newly discovered version of pterosaurs are being unearthed. Pterosaurs lived during the Cretaceous period, alongside Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops. Like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops they are reptilian, put the Pterosaurs are the first known vertebrates to truly fly and had species with wingspans as small as ten inches across up to as large as thirty-five feet across. Originally the fossil bed was found in 1971, but excavation didn’t really start until 2011. A scientific paper written and published in 2014 describes a fossil graveyard 480 miles west of Sao Paulo which revealed around fifty complete skeletons of a pterosaur species with an unusual crest on their heads that developed as they grew into adulthood. The fossils found in Brazil belong to a pterosaur now named Caiuajara dobruskii, and belong to an animal that appears to have lived in large colonies of juveniles and adults and had a wingspan of approximately eight feet across. Although they were found together in a group, the remains indicate that the did not all die at the same time. This tells us that the deaths of these great flying lizards came from multiple forces rather than a single effect.
Life in an Unlikely Place
This next new species was found in 2010, but not publicly identified until December of 2013. They were found in one of the places I would vote as the least likely to harbor life, the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. The scientists who discovered Edwardsiella andrillae were not looking for life, but rather studying the ocean currents that ran beneath the ice. They had lowered a robotic camera to record the movements of the water and it unveiled thousands of glowing sea anemones growing upside down from the shelf itself, rather than up from the sea floor. These anemones have between forty to fifty tentacles and when relaxed they reach three to four inches in length. Even more astonishing is that these icy underground forests seem to be home to a host of other animals, including fish who seem quite comfortable swimming upside down and several worm like creatures. Researchers plan on revisiting the shelf in the near future to examine and record more about this new frigid but thriving ecosystem.
For around two decades intricate geometric designs were being found on the sea floor. They were named the crop circles of the sea, and nobody knew what was causing them, then they found the answer. The artist was an unassuming little puffer fish. This little guy kept himself busy rearranging the stones on the ocean floor to attract a pretty female puffer fish to it. The structure that these designs house is the nest of the puffer fish, designed to help protect the future generations.
When researchers watched the footage of the puffer fish they noticed that this particular little brown puffer fish with white spots was one they didn't recall ever seeing. So this circle builder, Torquigener albomaculosus, was finally given the recognition he deserved.
Speaking of sea anemones, one of the largest recorded varieties, known as Boloceroides daphneae, turns out not to be an anemone at all. This creature has tentacles of up to six feet long, and has really shaken things up. Anemones are simple animals and although this organism presents like an anemone due to its lack of certain characteristics it is actually an entirely new class of animal. DNA studies have determined that although both of these stationary meat eaters lack specific characteristics, such as a skeleton or colony building, the newly named Relicanthus daphneae never had them. The class of animal that Anemones are in took millions of years to lose the defining characteristics. So far Relicanthus daphneae is the only member of this new order, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find more joining it as we continue exploring the oceans.
Mount Ngoc Linh
The remote forests of Vietnam have offered up a new variety of frog in the recent months. Jodi Rowley, an Australian expert in Asian amphibians, regularly explores the mountains and forests of Vietnam. When she and her colleagues were visiting Mount Ngoc Linh they spent their time searching hollows in trees where water collects, and in nearly every one they found a two inch long pink and yellow frog that they had not seen before. Although there is still very little known about this new species the males sport a particularly striking feature. They have a layer of spikes made of keratin covering their heads and backs that grow larger during the breeding season, presumably to attract females. For those of you wondering, keratin is the protein that makes up both your fingernails, and the horn of a rhinoceros.
There’s a whole world of tiny things that we can barely discern, and within that world is a tiny family of parasitic wasps called the Mymaridae, commonly known as a fairyfly. Fairyflies are well recorded with thousands of species spanning billions of years, and now a new species has joined thier ranks. All fairyflies are tiny, and the newly discovered Tinkerbella Nana is no exception. This dimunitive little wasp is only 250 micrometers long, which equates to roughly two times the width of a human hair and have dainty wings with long fringes around the edges. It is thought that the small size of the wings and the fringes help to reduce turbulence so that they can fly more effectively. A large number of Tinkerbella Nana wasps were recently extracted from debris gathered during an expedition in the tropical forests of Costa Rica by scientific teams lead by John Huber of the Canadian National Collection of Insects, and John Noyes of the Natural History Museum in London.
Another Sengi in Africa
A new species of round-eared sengi, better known as an elephant-shrew, has been detected in Africa. The first Sengis were described somewhere around 1968 and have only been found in Africa. They are a small mammal that at first and second glance look a great deal like a long nosed mouse or shrew, but genetic studies indicate that they are much more closely related to the first animal in their names, the elephant. Scientists studying the Sengi in remote Africa encountered a smaller than normal specimen with rust colored fur and pinkish skin, so they set about collecting more of them. Because the Namib Desert where the sengi live is exceptionally arid and remote it took nine expeditions over six years for them to capture just twenty one sengi in all, and genetic testing revealed that sixteen of those specimens were of the new species, which they named Macroscelides micus.
Out of the Clouds
In the dense cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador a new relative of the racoon has been found. This orange brown mammal with big eyes is the first animal in the order of Carnivora to be discovered in several decades, and is now the smallest known species within the racoon family at only about two pounds and around two feet long, with a tail almost as long as its body. There have been sightings and even pelts of these little olinguitos for decades, but they had been misidentified as a larger cousin the olingo. The similarity is close enough that it was revealed that an olingo that moved through several US zoos in the 60’s and 70’s was in truth an olinguito. It was moved frequently because it wouldn’t mate with any of the olingos that it was housed with. Although this cute little guy is a member of Carnivora its diet consists mainly of fruit, and they seem to prefer to live a solitary life.