Discovery of new species

Last week, the world was taken by surprise when the Smithsonian announced its discovery of a new species of mammal, the Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), in the Andean forests. It is a very cute, 900 gram, bushy-tailed, tree-living mammal, part of the raccoon family. It seems that specimens of this species had been misidentified by scientists as the Eastern Lowland Olingo (B. alleni) for many decades, even housing them in zoos under that name. Although some might argue then, that it is not a true “new” species discovery, it still highlights how little we know about the animals and the habitats that we share this planet with.
Even though we might be aware that there are large areas in the world that are completely unexplored (including the vast majority of our oceans), if you don’t stop to think about it too much, there is this general feeling that we have a decent idea about the existent species. The announcement of the olinguito got me wondering about how often scientists discover new species nowadays. After all, the olinguito is the first member of the Carnivora order described in the last 35 years. As I started looking into it, I was completely shocked and amazed by the numbers I found. Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) reports it has found 1,300 new species in the last 20 years. The Census of Marine Life, a ten-year project, has formally described (meaning it has named and classified them) over 1,200 species, with about 5,000 more still waiting formal description. The yearly State of Observed Species Report presents findings of anywhere between 15,000 and 18,000 newly described species a year since 2008. This last one includes in these numbers the description of fossilized discoveries, but that still means scientists describe, yearly, almost twice as many species than those known to humans in the 1750s!
These discoveries not only include plants, fungi, and insects- which are often very small, and elude detection even when they inhabit fairly human-populated areas- but also reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even mammals. Some notable discoveries in the last two decades include:
• A cockroach-like insect that exists in a single cave in Guam.
• The odd-looking species of Litoria frog, from Indonesia, which has a pointy Pinocchio-type nose.
• The now internet-viral blob-fish from the deep waters off of New Zealand and Australia.
• The Peruvian Chinchilla Tree Rat, a cat-rodent found near the Machu Picchu archeological site.
• The Walking Shark, discovered in 2006, this Indonesian shark uses its fins to walk along the bottom of the ocean while hunting its prey.
The discovery of all these new species not only reminds us that there is so much left to find out about our planet and all the living things in it, but also highlights the importance of conservation. How many of these new plants and animals would we have found if the forests of Indonesia had all been cut down for agriculture? In fact, most 1,300 new species described by Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program are probably in some degree of danger, as this program specifically targets their surveys to areas that face increased non-sustainable human activity. I hope that as a species, we can understand and protect our natural habitats before it is too late, and we miss out on the millions of species left out there to discover.

One comment

  1. It is said that some 98 percent of all species that have ever existed on Earth are already extinct, or are thought to be extinct, as some species that were thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago, have been discovered to be still living , or seen in a cave pictograph of a Sauropod dinosaur sketched by an early man some 5,000 years ago in Peru; and the ball shaped watery cells found by NASA floating around in the atmosphere that range from a baseball size to some 12 foot in diameter thathave splashed on the side of satellites and airplanes that have been grown in the NASA labs, and now are proven to be a life form ; or the rods video taped by a Mexican explorer that were up to 20 feet long with fins that swim extremely fast in the atmosphere, water, and through physical objects. A movie was made of this discovery in a cave in Mexico. Then there are the bright orbs that emerge out of the ground in cemeteries , which are similar to the bright colored orbs video taped making crop circles in England. I would imagine almost anything could be made via DNA , RNA and the ribosomes. There have even been reports by NASA employees of sentient space ships that seemed to be alive as they responded to touch. But then – only some 6 percent of all humans that have ever lived are alive today.

Comments are closed.