Jan 28
The newly discovered Brookesia micra chameleon is the smallest lizard to ever be described, with the juvenile being small enough to perch on the tip of a matchstick!
This is just one example of a species featured in ARKive’s newly-discovered topic page. Explore the page to find out about other recently described species, how these species were found and why discovering new species is so important.
Brookesia micra photo

Juvenile Brookesia micra perched on a matchstick

A newly discovered species may be a species that is completely new to science, or one which has previously been described but is found to be made up of two or more separate species. With estimates that there could be between 3 million and 100 million organisms existing on Earth, and only around 1.7 million having been classified, the vast majority of life on Earth has not yet been uncovered.

Wattled smoky honeyeater photo

The wattled smoky honeyeater, discovered in 2005, was the first bird to be discovered in New Guinea since 1939

Discovering new species is very important, especially as many undiscovered species could become extinct before they are even identified. Describing and naming species is the first step towards protecting a species, as conservation strategies can then be put in to place.

The recently discovered kipunji is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Many of the recently discovered species featured on ARKive have some very unusual names; the psychedelic frogfish, the David Bowie spider, the Louisiana pancake batfish and Mr Burns beaked toad. Check out the profiles of these unusually named species to find out more about them and the reasons behind their quirky names.

The strangely patterned psychedelic frogfish

Why not take a look at our newly-discovered species page today and discover some new species for yourself!

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Media Researcher
Jan 28

A team of researchers has published a paper claiming that ‘most of the world’s plant and animal species could be named before they go extinct’ and, furthermore, it could be achieved this century.

Describing and naming new species is important as it helps drive interest in conservation. A species, once identified, can then become the focus of efforts to monitor and conserve it. The more we know about biodiversity, the more evolutionary gaps are filled, and the more we are able to explain the life histories of species on Earth. The millions of species that share our planet provide many free and valuable services which are vital for human health and well-being.  These services range from providing clean air and to fresh water, recycling nutrients, pollinating flowering plants and controlling the climate.

The Vulnerable Brazil-nut tree from Colombia provides valuable oil that is harvested by humans and used in a variety of products

Naming a species gives formal recognition to its existence, making conservation easier,” said lead author of the paper Associate Professor Dr Mark Costello, from The University of Auckland.

The researchers propose that the target is possible due to an increase in taxonomists (people who classify, characterise and describe species), combined with a reduction in the estimate of the number of species on earth. An increase in both amateur and professional taxonomists has been driven by the growth of publicly available information on taxonomy via the internet. This increase has been seen predominantly in areas where it is needed most – areas rich in biodiversity such as Asia and South America. The recent surge in the number of taxonomists will also have gone some way towards reducing what the Convention on Biological Diversity has acknowledged as the ‘taxonomic impediment’. This is an issue created by knowledge gaps in our taxonomic system and a shortage of trained taxonomists, which in turn has affected our ability to conserve and understand the benefits gained from biodiversity.

We believe that with just a modest increase in effort in taxonomy and conservation, most species could be discovered and protected from extinction,” said Dr Costello.

This long-nosed tree frog is one of the many new species to be discovered in the last five years

New species estimates

Current species estimates range from 2 to 8.7 million species on Earth, compared to previous estimates that have been as high as 100 million. Around 1.7 million species have already been described, with a large number still to be described, and potentially many more yet to be discovered. However, recent estimates are still significantly lower than those previously suggested, leading Dr Costello and his colleagues to conclude that with a small increase in the number of employed taxonomists, and more financial support and coordination within the international scientific community, the remainder of the world’s species could feasibly be described within the current century.

We’ve discovered three times more people now naming species than there were ever before. We’re in the golden age of taxonomy,” added Dr Costello.

The Caquetá titi monkey is one of the most recently discovered primates, described formally in 2010

Controversy over the prioritisation of naming new species

While it may seem plausible to Dr Costello and his colleagues that the number of species on Earth, and therefore the rate of species extinction, is lower than previously thought, and that ‘species are more likely to be described than become extinct’, some remain sceptical. Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Global Species Programme is less convinced:

Extinction is usually underestimated. It’s more important to fight extinction than to describe or catalogue all species…. I am worried by the message implying that to conserve species you need to know everything about them. You can do a lot of protection even in the absence of knowledge.”

Vié points out that conservation of species is possible without knowing every single species within an area. Although he believes it possible that we could catalogue life on Earth, he also reminds us that ‘we don’t have the luxury of time’.

Professor Georgina Mace, from the Centre for Population Biology at Imperial College London, is also cautious about praising the new publication. Like Vié, she is not convinced about the idea that the names of all species must be known.

She states that once conservation plans are in place for places rich in biodiversity, species within these areas will benefit ‘whether named or not’.

This leaf chameleon, Brookesia confidens, was first discovered in 2007 already protected within the Ankarana National Park, Madagascar

A cautionary tale

Although there has been a decided increase in the number of described and named species, maintaining the same rate of species discovery in the field will become more difficult the fewer species there are to discover. As the backlog of collected specimens are named, and the discovery of new species slows, the current rate of newly described species will fall. Mace concludes that efforts therefore must be strategically triaged between ‘discovering, describing, monitoring and conserving’.

The researchers of this paper acknowledge the tentative good news for the conservation of biodiversity. However, co-author Professor Nigel Stork warns that ‘Climate change will dramatically change species’ survival rates, particularly when you factor in other drivers such as over-hunting and habitat loss’. This is no time to be complacent when life on Earth is at stake.

 

Read more on these stories at BBC News – World’s unknown species ‘can be named’ before they go extinct and The Telegraph – Extinction of millions of species ‘greatly exaggerated’.

Find out more about the importance of newly discovered species on ARKive’s Newly Discovered Species topic page.

Kaz Armour – ARKive Text Author

 

Jan 26
Photo of northern hairy-nosed wombat

Northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii)

Species: Northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The northern hairy-nosed wombat has a backwards-facing pouch, ensuring that the pouch does not fill up with soil when the animal is digging.

The northern hairy-nosed wombat is a large, heavily built marsupial with strong claws, which it uses for digging complex burrow systems. The largest of the three wombat species, the northern hairy-nosed wombat is also the largest known herbivorous burrowing mammal. It spends the day sheltering inside its burrow, emerging at night to feed on grasses, and its very low water requirements help it to survive in its hot, dry environment.

One of the world’s rarest mammals, the northern hairy-nosed wombat has declined due to a combination of drought, competition for food with cattle and sheep, habitat loss due to invasive grasses, and predation by dingoes. The Epping Forest National Park in central Queensland, Australia, was created to protect the last remaining population of this species, and cattle and dingoes have been excluded from the area. Various conservation efforts are underway to try and save the northern hairy-nosed wombat, and a second population has now been established in southern Queensland. Although this rare marsupial is still perilously close to extinction, its population has risen from fewer than 40 individuals in the 1980s to around 200 by 2012.

Find out more about the northern hairy-nosed wombat and its conservation at EDGE – Northern hairy nosed wombat and The Wombat Foundation.

See images and videos of northern hairy-nosed wombat on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jan 26
Australia Day is an annual celebration held on the 26th January every year to mark the first arrival of ships in Sydney Cove from Great Britain in 1788. Every year on the eve of Australia Day, the Australian of the Year awards are given out. To celebrate, we thought we would give out some of our own awards to the animals found in Australia.
 

Most unique appearance

There are some very unusual looking animals in Australia, making this a tough category. Strong contenders included the Javanese cownose ray and the narrow-breasted snake-necked turtle. However the award went to the platypus; a creature so unusual looking that the first specimens brought back to England were though to be the work of a fraudulent taxidermist! With its duck-like bill, webbed feet and broad flattened tail, the platypus certainly has a very distinctive and unusual appearance.

Platypus photo

The platypus has a very unique appearance with its duck-like bill, webbed feet and broad flattened tail

 

Best camouflage

The winner of this award, the pygmy seahorse, is so well camouflaged in its coral reef habitat it was not discovered until the coral in which it lives in was being examined in a lab! The pygmy seahorse is found in the coral reefs around Australia, and it is not only the same colour as the coral in which it lives, it is also covered in small swellings which resemble the polyps of the coral. This results in the seahorse being very well camouflaged. Can you see the pygmy seahorse in the picture below?

Pygmy seahorse photo

Can you spot the pygmy seahorse?

Most dangerous

Australia is renowned for having some of the world’s most dangerous animals! There are poisonous snakes, spiders, jellyfish, sharks, crocodiles even the platypus has a venomous spur on the back of its rear ankles! However this award goes to one of Australia’s less well known venomous animals – the southern blue ringed octopus. This octopus may be small in size, but it has enough venom in its saliva to kill 26 adults! Its venom, which contains tetrodotoxin, causes neurological problems such as breathing troubles and paralysis. Normally brown in appearance, when threatened it develops blue ringed shape markings. There is currently no antivenom available for the blue ringed octopus.

Southern blue ringed octopus

Southern blue ringed octopus displaying its blue ringed shape markings

Best dressed

Colouration in animals has a wide range of functions. Whether for defence or for attracting a mate, Australia has some beautifully coloured animals including the sunset frog with its bright orange belly, and the multicoloured superb parrot. However the winner of this award is the Gouldian finch. This multicoloured finch, endemic to northern Australia, has a green body, a blue rump, a purple breast, a yellow belly and a red, black or yellow head. The very colourful adults are however upstaged by the chicks with their elaborate and colourful blue, yellow, black and white gape.

Gouldian finch chick

Gouldian finch chick gape

Life time contribution award

This category was very difficult with Australia having so many iconic animals. In the end, the winner was the koala. Koalas, endemic to Australia, are one of Australia’s best known animals. Though bear like in appearance the koala is actually a marsupial. The koala is mainly nocturnal, spending most of its time up in the trees where it can feed and rest, whilst gaining some protection. Koalas have fairly sedentary lifestyles with their diet mainly consisting of eucalyptus leaves. Koalas vary depending on where about in Australia they are found, and those found in south Australia are larger and have thicker fur than those in the north.

Photo of a koala relaxing in a tree

This koala is relaxing after its big win!

 

The Auzzie award

Like the Oscars have the Razzies, we have our own Auzzie award to give out.

Most unusual faeces

This result was unanimous - it had to go the wombat for having cubic poo!

Photo of a northern hairy-nosed wombat

This northern hairy-nosed wombat does not seem to want to collect its award!

Happy Australia day!

Let us know of any other awards you would like to give out to other Australian species.

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Media Researcher

Jan 25

Every 25th January, ‘Burns Suppers’ are held throughout Scotland, as well as in other parts of the world, in honour of Robert Burns (1759-1796). An iconic Scottish figure and one of the world’s most famous poets, Robert Burns is much admired for his poems and love songs, as well as his cheeky character, and is probably best known as the writer of one of the most popular songs in the English language – Auld Lang Syne.

Spear thistle image

Some believe that the spear thistle is most likely to be the true ‘Scotch thistle’

Burns Suppers are a celebration of Robert Burns and all things Scottish, including Scotch whisky, Scottish music and haggis! Last year, we at ARKive joined in these celebrations by delving into our extensive collection of flora and fauna to pick our own favourite Scottish species. This year, however, we have decided to do something a bit different, and feature a few species that you might be surprised to learn once roamed Burns’ homeland…

Brown bear

Brown bear image

Alaskan brown bear

This powerfully built species is one of the largest carnivores on Earth! Can you imagine if it was still roaming the Scottish highlands today?! If it was, each male brown bear would occupy a home range of around 2,000 square kilometres…and would probably rather enjoy the fresh supply of Scottish salmon!

Grey wolf

Eurasian wolf image

Female Eurasian wolf following scent

There has been much debate over whether or not the grey wolf should be reintroduced to Scotland. But no matter which side of the argument you are on, there is certainly no denying what an impressively beautiful and intelligent predator this species is! Did you know that, despite being called the grey wolf, this intelligent social canid is found in many other different coat colours, including red, brown, black and almost pure white?

Arctic fox

Arctic fox image

Arctic fox cub pouncing

The dense, woolly coat of the Arctic fox would certainly keep it warm during the harsh Scottish winters…this species even has fur on the soles of its feet! The Arctic fox also has a short nose and heavily furred ears to help reduce heat loss.

Lynx

Eurasian lynx image

Eurasian lynx walking through snow in summer coat

A proficient hunter, the Eurasian lynx mainly hunts around dawn and dusk, and is capable of taking down prey more than three times its size. Amazing! This furry feline usually feeds on roe and red deer, but is known to take smaller animals such as rabbits, hares and wild pigs when larger animals are scarce. A stealthy predator, the lynx uses its slightly longer hind limbs to help it pounce on unsuspecting prey.

Elk

Eurasian elk image

Eurasian elk

Along with the moose, the Eurasian elk is the largest living deer species. It is a rather distinctive mammal with a heavy body, a broad, overhanging muzzle, and impressive antlers. Sir Edwin Landseer’s famous ‘Monarch of the Glen’ painting might have looked a little different if this massive deer had been around in Scotland in his day!

How different do you think Scotland would be today with these creatures lurking around?! What are your favourite Scottish species? Leave us a comment to let us know!

Happy Burns Night!

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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