Olinguitos, fairyflies, and dragon trees, oh my—just three of ten million species still awaiting discovery!
Published July 2, 2014
You might think that we've discovered all the plants, animals, and other critters on our planet by now. Suprisingly, scientists estimate that as many as ten million new species have yet to be discovered! Just a fraction—two million species—have been discovered to date. Unfortunately, we may be losing species faster than we're finding them.
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s International Institute for Species Exploration tries to draw attention to the issue of biodiversity loss and the importance of completing an inventory of all life on earth by publishing an annual top ten list of new species discovered in the previous year. As you can see from the photos on this page, there are some species that have been hiding in plain sight!
Photograph by Mark Gurney
Belonging to the same family as the raccoon, the olinguito is a smaller cousin that lives in the cloud forests of the Andes mountains in Colombia and Ecuador. What makes the olinguito especially remarkable is that it's the first new carnivorous mammal to be discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years!
Photograph by Warakorn Kasempankul/Parinya Siriponamat
Kaweesak’s Dragon Tree
How could a tree that's almost 40 feet (12 meters) tall go unnoticed for so long? Well, the Kaweesak’s dragon tree was finally noticed and scientists believe around 2,500 of them exist in Thailand and Burma. The tree has beautiful, soft, sword-shaped leaves and cream-colored flowers with bright orange filaments.
Photograph by SCINI
The ANDRILL anemone was discovered by and named after the Antarctic Geological Drilling Program (ANDRILL) and is the first sea anemone found in ice. Nobody knows how this anemone survives in its frigid Antarctic environment. The creature has around 12 tentacles that it keeps dangling in the water while its pale yellow body remains burrowed into the ice.
Photograph by SINC (Servicio de Informacion y Noticias CientÌficas) and J.M. Guerra-García
The tiny skeleton shrimp was discovered in a cave on an island off the coast of southern California. The male measures around an eighth of an inch (3.3 millimeters) and the female less than a tenth of an inch (2.1 millimeters). The skeleton shrimp has an eerie, translucent appearance that makes it resemble a bony structure.
Photograph courtesy of Cobus M. Visagi
A new fungus, orange penicillium, has been discovered living among us! This fungus has a bright orange color and was also named as a tribute to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands. Discovered in Tunisian soil, the orange penicillium may have a unique ability to protect itself from drought.
Photograph by Conrad Hoski
Maybe the reason it took so long to discover the leaf-tailed gecko is that it uses camouflage to blend into rocky terrain and rain forests in Australia. The gecko tends to come out at night, waiting on the sides of trees and rocks for its next meal to go by. The leaf-tailed gecko also has larger eyes and longer limbs than other Australian geckos.
Photograph courtesy of Manuel Maldonado
For a single-celled organism, the amoeboid protist is a giant at 1.5 to two inches (four to five centimeters). If this amoeboid wasn't so big, perhaps it would have taken even longer to discover in underwater caves off the coast of Spain. The amoeboid protist uses sponge fragments from surrounding waters like LEGO blocks to construct its shell.
Photograph by Leibniz-Institute DSMZ and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
Clean Room Microbes
We don't need to go into outer space in order to search for new life. In fact, clean room microbes have been living right under our feet inside rooms where spacecraft are assembled, both in Florida and French Guiana. Despite efforts to keep these rooms sterile, these microbes can tolerate extreme conditions and could potentially contaminate other planets we visit!
Photograph by Jennifer Read
The microscopic tinkerbell fairyfly may be delicate and only live a few days, but it lives life to the fullest—at least by parasitoid wasp standards—attacking the eggs of other insects. Found in the forest of Costa Rica, it was named after Peter Pan's fairy sidekick and measures just 250 micrometers (0.00984 inches), making it one of the smallest insects.
Photograph by Alexander M. Weigand
Domed Land Snail
Life is slow and dark for the domed land snail, living nearly 3,000 feet (900-plus meters) below ground in the total darkness of caves in Croatia and moving just millimeters or centimeters a week. This snail has no eyes, but who needs them when there's nothing to see? It also has no shell pigmentation, giving it a ghostlike appearance.
Explore the map to see where in the world these newly discovered species live!
2014 Top Ten Species Map courtesy of SUNY-ESF. View in a larger map.