It’s been a trying year for wildlife. It could be easy to slip into despair as climate change unwaveringly chugs on, the United States pulls out of the Paris agreement, and many animals are being pushed closer to extinction. But all is not lost.
From the saving of the kiwi, the rediscovery of the elusive mulgara, and China shutting down its domestic ivory trade, there is much to be hopeful about. And as always, scientists in far flung locations have discovered a whole trove of new species.
Below is a selection of those we find particularly noteworthy.
Tapanuli organutan (Pongo tapanuliensis)
According to a new paper released this year, one group of orangutans (pictured above) living in the northern part of Sumatra are genetically distinct enough to be classed as their own species. The first great ape species to be discovered in over 80 years, P. tapanuliensis is already threatened with extinction as only around 800 are thought to survive.
Bhupathy’s purple frog (Nasikabatrachus bhupathi)
With beady eyes, a pointed pig-like snout, and chubby legs, this might not be what most people think of when imagining an amphibian, but say hello to the latest species of purple frog. And if you think the weird-looking creature bears more than a passing resemblance to a mole, that's because it too spends most of its time underground.
Vika (Uromys vika)
Giant, hairy creatures with a powerful bite have long been rumored to be scurrying around the Solomon Islands. Now, scientists have confirmed that the islands are indeed inhabited by giant arboreal rats that can crack coconuts with their teeth.
The non-photosynthesizing plant (Sciaphila sugimotoi)
While most plants turn to the Sun for their energy, some instead tap into the roots of others, not unlike many species of fungi. The plants are often difficult to find as they only come above ground to flower and seed. This new species was found on the Japanese island of Ishigaki.
Naked lizard (Geckolepis megalepis)
You may have heard of lizards that drop their tails in a bid to escape predators, but you might be less familiar with a group of reptiles known as the fish-scaled geckos. These beasties literally shed their scales when attacked, leaving behind a smooth, naked lizard. This year saw a new species added to the list, which also happens to be the largest known.
Glow-in-the-dark shark (Etmopterus lailae)
No one has actually seen this critter alive, but it’s been known about for almost two decades. After the first detailed study of the specimen, however, scientists discovered that it was actually a completely unknown species of laternshark, which are notable for their bioluminescence.
Trump moth (Neopalpa donaldtrumpi)
With a disheveled blonde mop on its head and small genitals, the researchers who discovered this new species of moth from the southern United States naturally thought of the incumbent President. They hoped that the move might help the moth's namesake to take more notice of the nation's micro-fauna, though this may not be the best way to go about it.
Pink Floyd shrimp (Synalpheus pinkfloydi)
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what aspect of this pistol shrimp inspired its name. The crustaceans can snap their enlarged claw with such speed that the noise produced is loud enough to kill a fish.
Mariana snailfish (Pseudoliparis swirei)
This year saw the discovery – or rather formal description – of the world’s deepest vertebrate. First seen in 2014, the Mariana snailfish can live at depths surpassing 8,000 meters (26,200 feet) and seemingly flourishes in this extreme environment free of predators.
Daphne Major finch
Quite incredibly, this is not only a new species known to science but actually an entirely new species that has just evolved. Scientists watched as an immigrant species of finch not normally found on the island of Daphne Major mated with a resident female to produce offspring that became reproductively isolated, showing that new bird species can occur within just a few generations.