70 new species were discovered in 2021, including 2 guitarfish and a pink pygmy pipehorse

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From the lowland forests of Madagascar to the coral reefs of Easter Island, dozens of new flora and fauna have been added to the scientific tree of life in 2021, proving that our vast and vibrant planet still contains unexplored places with plants and animals never recorded before.

California Academy of Sciences researchers announced the 70 new plant and animal species, including 14 beetles, 12 sea slugs, nine ants, seven fish, six scorpions, five starfish, five flowering plants, four sharks , three spiders, two sea feathers, a moss, a pygmy pipehorse and a caecilian.

More than a dozen scientists from the Academy and several dozen international collaborators have described the new species, discovered on five continents and three oceans.

Researchers sifted through forest soils, ventured into vast deserts, and dived to extreme ocean depths.

“Our relationship with nature improves with each new species, deepening our understanding of how our planet works,” said Dr Shannon Bennett, Academy virologist and chief science officer.

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Easter egg weevil

Among the new findings was Pachyrhynchus obumanuvu, a brightly colored Easter egg weevil from the wooded peaks of the Philippines.

Easter Egg Weevil by Analyn Cabras

At 3,000 feet (914 meters) above sea level, weevils live in the canopy of the humid, moss-covered cloud forest. Unlike most weevils, which tend to be one color, P. obumanuvu features intricate patterns of iridescent yellows and greens. Its coloring mimics the traditional clothing of its namesake, the indigenous Obu Manuvu tribe.

Dr Cabras, who named the species, believes that the power of a name can inspire a sense of pride and stewardship for a species within a community.

“How can we teach conservation and regeneration of wildlife if we can’t put a name on a face? “

P. obumanuvu was found in a small patch of primary forest – one of the few remaining in the region due to centuries of agriculture and over-logging.

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Pink pygmy pipehorse

Pygmy Pipehorse by Richard Smith

Cylix tupareomanaïa, a new species of pygmy pipehorse and close cousin to seahorses, was the first new genus of pipehorse to be reported in New Zealand in 100 years.

Academy research associate Dr Graham Short said: “This finding underscores how little we know about New Zealand’s reefs that we have explored for centuries.

“If you dive a little deeper I think we’ll identify several other new species of fish. “

Blue dot guitar

Ichthyology research associate Dr David Ebert described two blue-dot sea guitars from Madagascar (Acroteriobatus andysabini) and Socotra (Acroteriobatus stehmanni).

Guitarfish by Jot Powers, CC license on Wikimedia

They are coastal rays with elongated bodies and flattened heads that resemble guitars.

Due to their proximity to humans and their ability to be easily fished, these shark-like rays are among the most endangered of all cartilaginous fish, a class that contains sharks, rays, and chimaeras.

Dr Ebert’s conclusion that there are in fact two distinct species helped spur Madagascar’s first national action plan to protect sharks and rays.

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Working with local fisheries to incorporate species identification into their practice, Dr Ebert hopes for harmony between the Guitars of the Sea and the nearby coastal communities they support.

“Fire” starfish

Over the past year, Christopher Mah, research associate in invertebrate zoology, has described five echinoderms new to science, a group of marine animals including starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers, Easter Island and New Caledonia.

After careful consideration of images of a remote control vehicle and starfish specimens, Dr Mah described the Indo-Pacific starfish Uokeaster ahi.

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Uokeaster ahi by Terry Gosliner, CC license

Igniting the reef with its bright orange color, U. ahi aptly named for its fiery hue – ahi, which means “fire” in the Rapa Nui language.

Uokeaster‘is derived from the mythological sea deity Uoke, which, according to legend, submerged the once mainland Rapa Nui under the sea, leaving only its highest peaks uncovered. U. ahi resides in reefs just below the surface.

Dr Mah explained that starfish are important contributors to the health of coral reefs. Remove them and the ecosystem becomes unbalanced.

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“You never know what benefit will be gained from studying the unknown,” said Mah. “Whether it is a tangible benefit as an anticancer drug or an ecological benefit in protecting coral reefs.”

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