Nothing packs a movie theater faster than a flick about a new species. Doesn’t matter if it’s friend or foe, whether it springs forth from an abdomen or gets left behind by its mother spaceship (think Alien and ET), looks scary or cuddly, or is here to destroy the world or merely probe a few earthlings. As long as it doesn’t look human, any new species intrigues us.
Despite our fascination with genus born in the imaginations of writers, we often overlook new species that actually exist, ones discovered by scientists all over the world every year. The anti-GMO voices grow louder (do people really prefer watermelons with seeds?) each day and drown out the declarations of new (albeit not always improved) species that emerge with only the help of Mother Nature, usually with little or no fanfare.
None of these new finds of 2015 have occurred in the US but some might show up in natural science exhibits across the country. At the very least, you can find hundreds of images of these newcomers online and be humbled once again by the world’s most fascinating natural wonders.
10. Water Monitor Lizards
Exploring black markets can be dangerous, especially in foreign countries where you stick out as a stranger and have no contacts. But sometimes the risk is worth it. Rafe Brown, curator of the University Of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, recently strolled a black market in Manila, Philippines with some associates and came across two new species of water monitor lizards for sale, genetically exclusive types formerly unidentified in the world of science. Although many of the lizards’ characteristics such as shapes and body size are similar to others, these are native to a separate island in one instance and an isolated peninsula in another, most likely remaining undiscovered for many years.
9. Titi Monkey
Ask someone to describe the Amazon rainforest and you’ll probably hear a string of words including lush, green, massive ecosystems, cascading like a colossal multi-tiered jade palace, teeming with thousands of magnificent species. While that’s an accurate explanation, this wondrous jungle also includes a white sands forest. Located along either side of the Blanco River in Peru these forests are rare, covering less than 1 percent of the Peruvian Amazon. Last year a team from the Field Museum of Natural History documented an astonishing 1,751 species in this region in 17 days, including what is believed to be a new monkey species. Corine Vriesendorp, a conservation ecologist with the Field Museum, the titi monkey “is either a new species or a previously unknown color variant of [the coppery titi] Callicebus cupreus.” And you only made it to the hotel gift shop on your last vacation!
8. New Indochinese Worm
Worms are everywhere. We may be squeamish about seeing or handling them or worry about some exotic variety invading our body but Scientist Peter Geissler and his colleagues spent 95 days in Indochinese national parks looking for new species of all types of creatures. They found these new caecilians on dead leaves, snuggled under rotten logs, and along creek and stream beds. The new worms differed from others in various ways including tail length, teeth length, etc. Alas, to most of us, a worm is a worm, creepy and crawly.
7. Bird Species Authenticated After 15 Years
While the Amazon rainforest is a favorite destination for scientists, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is largely neglected when it comes to new species exploration, particularly in the area of ornithology. The Sulawesi streaked flycatcher was first spotted in 1997. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that the new species of perching songbird was determined to be original. In fact, the new variety is only distantly related to the gray-streaked flycatchers of Sulawesi, whom they were originally mistaken for. The new bird on the branch has shorter wings, a shorter tail, a more significantly hooked bill and higher-pitched chirps, trills, and whistles than its closest kin.
6. Terror Bird from Ancient Times Still Scary
We’ve all marveled at skeletal remains in museums of giant meat-loving birds that ruled the roost millions of years ago, 10 feet tall and swaggering across plains and mountains unscathed by lesser predators. Recently researchers finished a 90 percent complete skeleton of a fossil they found in 2010 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, appropriately dubbed a terror bird, whose auditory traits and anatomy are unique. Look for terror birds featured soon in upcoming scary movies.
5. Tiny, Charming Lizards Discovered in Andes
Even cuter than the dragons in the How To Train Your Dragon movies, three new species of woodlizards have been found in the Andes of Peru and Ecuador. The teensy lizards are just inches long, and their inquisitive eyes, opulently patterned skin and rows of multicolored spiky scales make them irresistible. Before this discovery, only 12 species of the genus were known, and five of those species were found in just the past 7 years.
4. Miniature Frog With Morphable Skin Surface
A frog no bigger than a human fingernail has been discovered in a sheltered cloud forest reserve in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. The little amphibian, known as the mutable rain frog, can alter its skin texture from spiny to smooth right before your eyes in just a few minutes. It was found in Reserva Las Gralarias, a mecca of biodiversity that has also given us new species of butterflies and birds, as well as a unique glass frog variety back in 2012.
3. Prehistoric Croc Dined On Clams
As if crocodiles weren’t scary enough, remains of a peg-toothed crocodile with a shovel-type mouth was recently found near the Amazon River in northeastern Peru. Believed to have thrived around 13 million years ago in the primitive swamps of Peru, the species is believed to have used its unique mouth to scoop up clams for sustenance. Seen in the image above, their mouths are flat and wide, whereas the crocs we come across have much more narrow mouths.
2. Ancient Owl Emerges Unique
For years, a beautiful owl species was included in a group called Hume’s owls. It was a victim of mistaken identity and was wrongly included in the golden-eyed desert tawny owl category. Researchers gave a second look at the owl’s feathers and body profile, as well as its DNA, and found the DNA was around 10 percent different from the Hume’s owl. What a hoot.
1. Shimmering Goblin Spider Group Grows
Researchers in Madagascar recently celebrated the discovery of five new species of minuscule, shimmering spiders. Barely visible with 0.04 to 0.12 inch body lengths, the glimmering little arachnids actually merited a new genus to call their own, Volborattella, based on their unique appearance, including genitalia unlike their relatives. See if you can tell the difference between sexes.
Gotta love those research scientists.