Every year, scientists discover hundreds of new plant and animal species, as well as thousands of new insects. Even yet, they’re only scraping the surface of what’s possible. According to scientists, a large portion of Earth’s biodiversity is yet unknown. Depending on how you count the bacteria, it’s estimated that 86 to 99 percent of species have yet to be discovered.
The prospect of discovering a new species may conjure up images of pith-helmeted explorers trudging through the jungle in search of a mythical beast. And it’s true that rainforests are biodiversity “hotspots” where new discoveries abound. However, DNA testing gives fresh insights about organisms that appear similar but are genetically diverse, resulting in the discovery of numerous new species in familiar locales or even museum archives.
Scientists must thoroughly study possible members of a new species, both inside and out, to determine every physical and genetic feature that distinguishes them from other organisms. They must also confirm that no one else has recorded the species first.
Unfortunately, many newly found organisms are already threatened with extinction. According to the World Wildlife Federation’s 2020 Living Planet Index, global total populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish declined by 68 percent between 1970 and 2016. Hundreds of species have become extinct as a result of human activity. That’s just the ones we’re aware of. It’s a race to discover, document, and (hopefully) save species before they vanish.
Here are a few of the most exciting new species discovered in 2021, according to scientists:
1.The Deep-Sea Dumbo The Emperor Dumbo Octopus — Grimpoteuthis imperator
This mystery cephalopod lives more than 4,000 feet beneath the surface of the North Pacific Ocean, making it one of the world’s deepest-living octopi. It has two ear-like fins on its head, just like other Dumbo octopuses. Despite the fact that the octopus was dead when it was removed from the water, scientists investigating its anatomy used MRI and CT scans to examine its internal organs. Their innovative method provided a clearer anatomical picture than standard dissection, allowing the only specimen of this rare sea species to be stored whole.
2.The Nano-Chameleon Brookesia nana
B. nana, the smallest reptile known to science, is about the size of a fingernail. Researchers discovered two of these small lizards — a male and a female — in Madagascar’s mountain rainforests. Despite belonging to the chameleon family, B. nana does not change color. While seeking for insects to feed, its brown skin helps it blend in with the forest floor.
3.The Bumblebee Hiding in Plain Sight Bombus incognitus
Researchers investigating forest bumblebees in the Rocky Mountains were taken aback when they discovered that the bees were split into two genetic clusters — what they believed was one species turned out to be two! In grassy alpine meadows in the United States and Canada, both species coexist peacefully.
4.The Bright Orange Bat Myotis nimbleness
This bat has vivid orange fur and is named for the Nimba Mountains in West Africa, where it can be found in caves and mining tunnels. This bat, together with the Lamotte’s roundleaf bat (Hipposideros lamottei), can only be found in this one mountain range, hence preserving it is critical for both species’ survival. Fortunately, much of it has already been designated as a natural preserve.
5.The Deadly Snake Named After a Goddess Suzhen’s krait — Bungarus suzhenae
Kraits are highly deadly snakes, so the fact that this one is named after Bai Suzhen, a snake goddess adored in Chinese mythology as a deity of healing and true love, is a little ironic. It lives in Yunnan Province, China, among rice fields and streams. The ability to correctly identify a venomous snake is essential for treating its bite. Suzhen’s krait is distinguished from its cousins by subtle changes in its teeth and black-and-white striped skin.
6.The Ant Named by a Rock Star Strumigenys ayersthey
This small and with an outstanding jawline lives in the Chocó-Darién region of Northwest Ecuador, one of the many unique ecosystems in the Tumbes–Chocó–Magdalena biodiversity hotspot that stretches from Ecuador to Peru’s northern tip. Douglas Booher, a Yale entomologist who determined that the ant was a new species, named it with the help of Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Stipe and Booher named the ant after Jeremy Ayers, a mutual acquaintance. The gender-neutral suffix -they horror Ayers’ role as an advocate for gender diversity and nonbinary representation.
7.The Whale Reclassification Decades in the Making Rice’s Whale — Balaenoptera ricei
Rice’s whale was previously known as the “Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s Whale” and was named after naturalist Dale Rice, who first documented them in the 1960s. In 2014, genetic tests proved that the Gulf whales were genetically unique from Bryde’s whales found in other oceans. An autopsy of a whale that washed up on the beach in Florida in 2019 completed the categorization of Rice’s whale as a new species. Only about 100 Rice’s whales remain in the wild.