A global spotlight has shone on a variety of plant and animal species over the past few weeks, but for all the wrong reasons: As bushfires across Australia continue to rage, burning since early October, biological diversity on the continent is one of the biggest victims. It is estimated that more than 1 billion mammals, reptiles, and birds have been killed so far, according to the University of Sydney.
As Australia is home to a particularly large number of endemic species, this means that many rare animals and plants found nowhere else on Earth will go extinct in the coming months. Though iconic animals like the koala and kangaroo are not in danger of extinction, lesser-known and ecologically significant species like the long-footed potoroo and glossy black cockatoo are losing their chances of survival. These losses will undoubtedly have devastating reverberations on the species and ecosystems that survive.
There is a silver lining, however: Amidst the loss of so many species, many new ones are emerging as well. Researchers from the California Academy of Sciences discovered and characterized 71 new species in 2019. Here, Stacker describes and shows photos of 30 of them—including one coral, two reptiles, four sea slugs, four flowering plants, five spiders, and 14 fish—using photos from California Academy of Sciences researchers. All data was released in December 2019.
As the press release introducing the research and debuting the species summarized, “The new species include 17 fish, 15 geckos, eight flowering plants, six sea slugs, five arachnids, four eels, three ants, three skinks, two skates, two wasps, two mosses, two corals, and two lizards. More than a dozen Academy scientists—along with many more international collaborators—described the new species discoveries.”
These discoveries are projected to have a positive impact on the expansion of ecological research, identifying previously overlooked areas as biologically diverse regions worth paying attention to.
Read on to discover 30 new species located across the globe, how they were discovered, and what distinguishes them from similar species we already know.
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- Scientific name: Chromoplexauracordellbankensis
The Gorgonian octocoral was first spotted off the rocky coast of San Francisco during summer 2018, by researchers from the California Academy of Sciences and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. After a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) allowed scientists aboard the ship to collect specimens of the deep sea coral, the same species was found in the Channel Islands and Monterey Bay as well.
- Scientific name: Cirrhilabrus wakanda
If the fairy wrasse’s scientific name sounds familiar, it is because the purple fish is named after Wakanda, the kingdom in the film “Black Panther” in which the color purple figures prominently. After the species was detected in coral reefs over 60 meters below the ocean surface in Tanzania, special equipment was required to reach and collect specimens.
- Scientific name: Dipturuslamillai
It was first thought that Dipturus lamillai was its close relative Dipturus chilensis, a skate popularly sold as steaks in Korea. Researcher David Ebert, however, noticed differences that led to the establishment of Falkland Islands-native lamillai as a separate species, including a more elongated snout and lighter spots on the body surface.
- Scientific name: Ecseniusspringeri
The range for the Blenny fish is so narrow—found only at the Fakfak Peninsula in West Papua, Indonesia—that it is classified as a micro-endemic reef fish. Six specimens were first collected during a Conservation International-led survey of the peninsula in March 2018. Though Ecsenius springericlosely resembles Ecsenius bicolor, it can be distinguished by a narrower black mid-lateral stripe, more distinct mid-side white strip, and a larger posterior orange area.
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- Scientific name: Eviotagunawanae
Like the Blenny fish, the Dwarfgoby is another micro-endemic fish species found in the Fakfak peninsula, originally collected by researchers conducting a reef fish biodiversity survey in March 2018. Though Eviota gunawanae was initially mistaken for Eviota tetha, scientists eventually recognized disparities in coloration between the two, leading to E. gunawanae’s classification as a separate species.
- Scientific name: Hoplolatilus andamanensis
When the sand tilefish was found in the Andaman Islands off the coast of Myanmar, scientists thought it could be Hoplolatilus fourmanoiri, a close relative. Andamanensis has an additional dorsal spine and slightly different coloration, however, leading to its establishment as a new species.
- Scientific name: Leucoraja elaineae
A survey conducted by the research vessel R/V Fridtiof Nansen off the coast of Kenya led to the discovery of the rough skate, the third species in the genus Leucoraja to be found in the Western Indian Ocean. Though it closely resembles Leucoraja wallacei, elaineae can be distinguished by its long snout, as well as the pairs of white spots on its dorsal surface.
- Scientific name: Liopropoma incandescens
Basslet specimens were collected near Pohnpei, Micronesia, using hand nets from a rocky crevice 130 meters below the ocean’s surface, a depth so staggering that divers required mixed-gas, closed-circuit rebreathers. Specimens were brought alive all the way to San Francisco, where researchers at the California Academy of Sciences separated them into a new species from their relatives based on coloration, snout length, and number of fin rays.
- Scientific name: Siphamia arnazae
A woman was scuba diving off of Papua New Guinea in December 2016 when she spotted Siphamia arnazae, leading scientists to return to the spot over the following years to collect specimens and classify it as a new species. The discovery has furthered the importance of the Milne Bay Province in ecological research, confirming that the area is one of the richest across the globe in reef fish diversity—currently home to at least 1,284 species and counting.
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- Scientific name: Sueviota minersorum
Researchers conducting a biodiversity survey originally struggled to collect specimens of the sponge-dwelling goby after noticing it in the reefs of the Raja Ampat Islands in Indonesia: It took at least five dives at depths from 15–24 meters to capture the sponge. Though this new species closely resembles Sueviota lachneri, its stocky body and unique color patterns set it apart.
- Scientific name: Tomiyamichthys emilyae
The shrimpgoby was collected off of the northernmost point of Sulawesi, Indonesia, where it dwells at 17–23 meters deep, along a sloping sand-rubble bottom near coral reefs. Its dark brown color, larger anterior nostril, and “spectacular sail-like” first dorsal fin all immediately distinguish it from similar gobiids.
- Scientific name: Trimma putrai
Trimma putrai has been found in four spots across Indonesia and Timor-Leste thus far: Bali, Flores, the Raja Ampat Islands, and Atauro Island. Richard Winterbottom of the Royal Ontario Museum has estimated there could be as many as 220 undescribed species within the Trimma genus. Reasons many, including Trimma putrai, have gone undetected thus far include: unnoticed divergences in mtDNA COI marker sequences; large numbers of species probably residing in unexplored depths below 50 meters; and that distinctive coloring differentiating species is not evident without the use of underwater macro-photography and morphology.
- Scientific name: Trimma wangunui
So far, only seven species of Trimma wangunui have been collected, leading scientists to conclude that the species is quite rare. It resides between 10–16 meters deep, with a single specimen each residing underneath individual pieces of dead foliated coral debrief. Observed off of four islands across Papua New Guinea and the Philippines thus far, it is named for Noel Wangunu, a leading reef conservationist and explorer of Papua New Guinea.
- Scientific name: Vanderhorstia dawnarnallae
Two male specimens observed off of West Papua, Indonesia, led to the first official description of Vanderhorstia dawnarnallae. Individuals of the species seem to mostly exist in pairs, living in an exposed, clean sandy habitat subject to periodic strong currents. Though Vanderhorstia dawnarnallae is similar to Vanderhorstia phaeosticta, it notably differs from the latter by lacking pronounced sexual dichromatism.
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- Scientific name: Dichaetanthera schatzii
Dichaetanthera schatzii was spotted in the humid, lowland evergreen forest on the southwestern side of Masoala National Park in northeastern Madagascar, an area to which it is endemic. Though it resembles its closest relative Dichaetanthera arborea, schatzii is identifiable by the multitude of small pink blossoms at the head of its stem, atop heavy leaves lower down.
- Scientific name: Gravesia serratifolia
Routine identifications of plants within Marojejy National Park in Madagascar resulted in the discovery of Gravesia serratifolia. This new species can be distinguished from other similar species within the Gravesia genus by its small, coarse leaf blades.
- Scientific name: Justicia alanae
Flowering plant Justicia alanae was discovered in 2019 in Mexico. It can be identified by its lavender-tipped leaves jutting from its long stem from base to tip and white petals with violet markings.
- Scientific name: Trembleya altoparaisensis
Trembleya altoparaisensis was first collected and described over a century ago by botanist Auguste François Marie Glaziou, and has since proved elusive, shifting locations to modify its environment over the decades. PhD student Ricardo Pacifico found a living specimen during an expedition to Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park in Goiás, Brazil, leading to scientist Frank Almeda producing a new species description. The white-flowered plant appears to be endemic to Goiás—for now.
- Scientific name: Cordylus phonolithos
The Girdled lizard was found under a small rock atop a larger boulder among the granite outcrops within the forests of the Serra de Neve Inselberg in Angola. The lizard’s scientific name means “sound stone,” paying tribute to the local name for the locality in which it was observed. Serra de Neve is the second-highest peak in the country; the discovery of Cordylus phonolithos there has shed light on the importance of the understudied area for conservation research.
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- Scientific name: Nucras aurantiaca
Nucras aurantiaca is now the ninth member of its genus to be found in southern Africa, observed along the Strandveld coasts of the Western Cape, South Africa. It is distinguishable from other sandveld lizards thanks to its striking orange color. Its discovery has re-invigorated ecological interest in the Western Cape, with some fears that agriculture and tourism is causing damage to the area.
- Scientific name: Janolus flavoanulatus
Researcher Terry Gosliner’s Slug Lab at the California Academy of Sciences conducted research in the Philippines, resulting in the discovery of a variety of new sea slugs. One species, Janolus flavoanulatus, is named for the yellow ring around its cerata, based on the Latin words flavus (“yellow”) and anulatus (“ringed”).
- Scientific name: Janolus incrustans
Another discovery of Gosliner, Janolus incrustans was found under coral rubble at 2–10 meters below the ocean surface off the Marshall Islands. It is distinguished from others of the same genus by the opaque white pigment that encrusts its body, which is also the source of its species name—the Latin word incrustans means “encrusted.”
- Scientific name: Janolus tricellariodes
Gosliner’s Philippines expedition also yielded descriptions of the Janolus tricellariodes, which was found on steep reef walls at 20–40 meters deep, a depth at which it is subject to strong currents. Tricellariodes can be distinguished from other similar sea slugs thanks to the vibrant purple tips of its orange cerata.
- Scientific name: Madrella amphora
Gosliner, who has described around one-fourth of all colorful sea slug species known today, observed Madrella amphora in Madang Lagoon in Papua New Guinea, where it imitated the appearance of the snail eggs that surround its habitat. This stuck out to Gosliner, who noted that though it is common to see “sea slugs mimic the colors of other species...it’s rare to see sea slugs mimic other animals entirely.”
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- Scientific name: Cinetomorpha baja
Cinetomorpha baja is one of three goblin spiders described for the first time this year with California-inspired names. Described by entomologist Darrell Ubick, baja is distinguished by the absence of conspicuous teeth along its dorsal region.
- Scientific name: Cinetomorpha laguna
Another new goblin spider, Cinetomorpha laguna, is only known from one type locality in Baja California, Mexico. Females can be recognized by their internal genitalia, which have a slightly pronounced anterior portion.
- Scientific name: Cinetomorpha sur
The third and final new goblin spider, Cinetomorpha sur, was also described by Ubick. It is distinguished by the shape of its male conductor tip, which has a serrated border.
- Scientific name: Myrmecicultor chihuahuensis
An expedition to the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico led scientists to discover Myrmecicultor chihuahuensis, which is also observable in the Southwest U.S. The only species so far in a new genus of spiders, the creature is as ant-loving as its name suggests, spending the majority of its life underground in ant mounds. Since it is difficult to observe the species in the wild without disrupting its natural environment, much of the ant-loving spider’s behavior is still a mystery to scientists, including why it prefers to hide out in ant habitats.
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