Posts Tagged ‘new species’

Top left: Cebu hawk owl; bottom right: Camiguin hawk owl. Source: Oriental Bird Club; painting by John Gale.

Did you know that the collective noun for owls is a parliament? Odd, because they tend to be solitary or paired. Anyways: a new parliament of seven owl species from the jungles of the Philippines.

A research team, led by Dr. Pamela Rasmussen of Michigan State University, was documenting the songs of the Philippine hawk owl (Ninox philippensis). This species was known to have geographically variable plumage, and previous taxonomists had split it into a number of subspecies. But plumage was not enough to diagnose

Because owls are nocturnal, they rely heavily on vocalizations to tell each other apart. And since they don’t learn these songs—they are in fact thought to be genetically programmed—owls with distinct enough songs probably belong to separate species. But recording owls at night in remote jungles is no easy task, and it took 15 years before the research team could confirm that they were dealing with seven hawk owls instead of just one.

Five of those seven species had previously been considered subspecies of the Philippine hawk owl on the basis of their plumage. But two—the Cebu and Camiguin hawk owls, named for the islands on which they are found—were completely new. It’s quite rare to discover a new vertebrate, and especially a new bird in this age of fanatical birding. But here were two! It’s nice, I think, to know that there are still mysteries out there to be brought to light.

The full article describing all seven species can be found here in PDF form (see page 12 for pictures of all the owls). And you can hear examples of the song recordings analyzed in this study: here’s the Camiguin hawk owl and the Cebu hawk owl.

Reference: Rasmussen PC, Allen DNS, Collar NJ, DeMeulemeester B, Hutchinson RO, Jakosalem PGC, Kennedy RS, Lambert FR, Paguntalan LM. 2012. Vocal divergence and new species in the Philippine Hawk Owl Ninox philippensis complex. Forktail 28:1-20.


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Two news stories that have warmed my heart in the past couple of weeks both involve non-scientists making important scientific discoveries. If you follow any biology blogs, you’ve probably heard about the new species of lacewing that was discovered on Flickr (here’s the paper describing it). Semachrysa jade was photographed by Gueg Hock Ping in Malaysia, and when entomologist Shaun Winterton saw the photo on Flickr, realized it was an undescribed species. Guek captured a specimen—necessary to confirm that the species was new—the following year. Along with Steve Brooks, another entomologist, they published the description in the open-access journal Zookeys. Interestingly, they found a second specimen of S. jade, already in a museum collection—one of perhaps millions of specimens that no one has yet realized represent new taxa.

The second story is a bit more old fashioned but exciting for a Mary Anning fan like me. The Keating family, while walking their dog, stumbled across a spectacular fossil on a rocky Nova Scotia beach. The beast is a juvenile sail-backed mammal-like reptile (maybe something like Dimetrodon) from the Carboniferous period (i.e. pre-dinosaurs). While this discovery is more low-tech than the lacewing from Flickr, what they both have in common is (1) someone with a keen eye getting out in nature and (2) the layperson connecting with scientists who can properly identify and document their find. In one case, a scientist reached out to the photographer, while in the other the family sought out experts when they found the fossil. Anyone could make the next cool biology headline.

So, in the words of Ms. Frizzle, get out there and explore!

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New species and weird scientific name news that has found its way to my browser over the past few months. Enjoy.

Pictures of tropical fish that will BLOW YOUR MIND. New and non-new species.

Potential cryptic species of sharks

Giant extinct turtle

Random Wikipedia browsing reveals that there is at least one species (a spider) named for Cthulhu

More cryptic species, in this case of skinks

The Taxonomic Name Resolution Service – searchable record of plant scientific names, including all documented synonyms – important for those describing new species, as well as for those trying to find historical research on species whose names have changed

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Have I accumulated enough taxonomy-related links for another roundup? Am I too exhausted/lazy from field work to do any proper blogging? Yes and yes.

First, and most importantly, the NCSU Insect Museum has announced the winners of its awesome annual Hexapod Haiku contest. My favourite among the runners-up:

all the insects
I’ve killed–waiting
in the other world

The new species in this instalment are a UV-reflecting scorpion, a monstrous fossil that may or may not be called Godzillus, and a shockingly purple crab.

A short collection of goofy scientific names. I don’t understand why so few people want to do taxonomy. Think of the power you’d have, naming tiny primitive insects after Tolkien characters!

Random, related thought: describing a new species is like developing a DnD character. Except that you’ve lost your set of dice and your Player’s Handbook. (Actually, I think someone’s already indirectly made this parallel, viz. the Phylo, formerly Phylomon, card game.)

I’ve saved the best for last. This list of dinosaurs that “aren’t what they were” is frakking great. When I was just starting to be obsessed with dinosaurs, the idea that they were warm-blooded and related to birds was just becoming widely accepted. My childhood collection of dinosaur books was thus a mixture of those with illustrations of plodding stupid heavy-tailed brutes and those with lean and nimble, even graceful, beasts. But by the time I was in high school, things had changed even more: people had found fossil feathers. A lot of them. Now virtually every theropod (the predatory dinosaurs from which birds evolved), and even many non-theropods, is illustrated with at least a proto-feathery covering. The quill-like things on Psittacosaurus and Triceratops are pretty wicked. (A funny thing to note is that the Jurassic Park movies have always tended to be ahead of the mainstream idea of dinosaurs, first with the warm-bloodedness, then with the feathers and badass Spinosaurus.)

Okay, one more link, because the last one reminded me of it: T. rex trying, my favourite thing on the internet these days.

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I just got back from my most recent field excursion and am completely exhausted. But look, I am nevertheless providing you with things to read! The new species announcements have been piling up for a few months, so here is another roundup of recently discovered or described life forms on this lovely planet of ours.

  • A plethora of colourful, strange-looking creatures from Suriname
  • A tiny deep-water shark from around the Galapagos
  • The littlest chameleons! (Highlights: figures 6, 8, and 10.)
  • One that deserves a lot more publicity: an Amazonian fungus that can eat plastic, potentially helping to break down garbage in landfills
  • A keen-eared herpetologist discovers a new species of leopard frog right smack in NYC
  • Also re: urban New York wildlife, this post is an enjoyable read about engaging non-biologists in nature. There’s not an undescribed species found, but they do discover ants that, though widespread and abundant there, had not previously been documented in New York.

Enjoy! I will tell you all about the Hawaiian rainforest in a few days!

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(or at least the first to make headlines; I don’t actually pay that close attention)

The world’s smallest frogs—in fact, the world’s smallest vertebrates—are two newly described species from New Guinea, Paedophryne amauensis and P. swiftorum. What makes them particularly cool is that they are terrestrial, while the previous holders of the smallest vertebrate title were fish. It was thought that aquatic vertebrates could reach smaller size extremes because of buoyancy-related release from constraints. Apparently this is not so. Here’s the original article describing these two species and one of many media accounts.

Not a new species, but a new discovery about a known species: a Brazilian plant called Philcoxia minensis turns out to be carnivorous. It is unique in that it has underground leaves in addition to its normal leaves that capture and digest small nematode worms.

In cutesy scientific name news, just in time for the arrival of a certain baby of famous parents, entomologists named a species of horsefly Scaptia beyonceae, because its shiny golden abdomen is, as we like to say in the technical literature, “bootylicious”.

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I did this last year and I think maybe I’ll make it a tradition: a year-end linkdump about new species described or discovered in the previous twelve months.

First, the International Institute for Species Exploration comes up with a top ten list of new species for every year. From what I can see, they’ve recently changed from announcing these in April to announcing them at the end of December, so here are links to both 2010’s top species and 2011’s. I particularly like how they strive to include invertebrates and the occasional non-animal (viz. the underwater fungus from 2011) and some details about the significance of each species.

Next a pair of articles about a woman who conducted a thirty-year study of the wildlife in her garden, and discovered several new species in the process (there are discrepancies between these two reports as to the number). More importantly, the study is also a testament to the diversity and resilience of urban wildlife – and of the people who care about it. Apparently a book about the project is now available.

This article basically sums up everything that I should include in this post, so I’ll just be lazy and link to it.

Earlier this year, PLoS Biology published a new estimate of the total number of eukaryotic (non-bacterial) species on earth. The new number, 8.7 million, is lower than many other estimates and was calculated using a novel method. Here’s one of the many popular media articles about these findings which includes some gratuitous pictures of relatively recently described species. The PLoS Biology editorial about this paper is also worth a read. When I get some time (read: when I decide to get off the couch), I might tinker with these new numbers to see how they affect another paper’s estimates of how much it would cost to describe all animal species. Update: this recalculation is already done, buried in the discussion – the grand total is now $364 billion.

Odds and ends: a myriad of new species from the Mekong, with some pretty pictures; many new French Polynesian plants; a new plant genus from Amazonia (I like this article for its perspective on how luck-based species discovery is); some charismatic and weird-looking sharks.

In somewhat related news, botanists no longer have to include a Latin description when they describe a new species. (Scientific names, of course, are still in Latin.) Zoologists abandoned Latin descriptions a while ago. My favourite quote from the article:

It’s premature to talk about the death of Latin. Plant names will still be in Latin, and scientists can still use Latin for the description if they choose, though no one expects that many people will.

I am actually a bit confused about this link because I’ve read plant species descriptions that didn’t include a Latin description, and I vaguely remember checking at some point last year whether it was still a requirement and finding that it was not.

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