Thursday, January 1, 2015

Six surprising “new” species of 2014

Sometimes it seems as if mankind has explored and exploited every corner of the world, leaving no stone unturned. Millions of species of plants, animals, and tiny microbes have been discovered and identified. Yet, we don’t know as much about the living world as we might like to think. Scientists estimate that there are still millions of species to be discovered. Over 200 of them were identified in 2014.
Although these species are called “new,” they have been here for a long time; they had simply avoided human detection until now. Some of them even challenge our current understanding of the natural world.
  • Off the coast of Australia, two species of mushroom-like animals were discovered at a depth of more than 3,000 feet. A new taxonomic family was defined, as the small and primitive animals did not fit into the existing family classifications.
  • A new elephant shrew discovered in Africa was determined to be the smallest of its kind.
  • A frog discovered in the U.S. does not croak; instead, it coughs. Perhaps even more surprising, it was not found in a remote, uninhabited region. It was found in the busy New York Metropolitan area.
  • In the Philippines, researchers identified a new plant species that “eats” nickel. It has the capacity to absorb impressive amounts of the mineral, growing in nickel-rich soil where 99 percent of plant species fail.
  • Another notable new frog was identified, this time in Indonesia. It is one of only about a dozen frogs with internal fertilization, and it has fangs. It also gives live birth to tadpoles, which was previously an unknown phenomenon. The vast majority of frogs lay eggs, and the remainder gives birth to froglets.
  • Perhaps the most mysterious discovery of the year is a still-unidentified glowing insect. Scientists believe it to be larva, most likely from some kind of click beetle. It’s only about half an inch long, but a ferocious hunter. It appears to illuminate as a mechanism of attracting prey, and “turns out the light” when it is done hunting. The eerie green insect could also be seen as a sign of the times. Scientists did not discover it in the jungle, or even in the city, but on Reddit. A photographer in the Amazon rainforest, where the insect lives, had posted a picture and asked for help identifying it.

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