From predatory Madagascarian wasps to ant-loving spiders from the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico, more than a dozen researchers at the California Academy of Sciences described 71 plant and animal species new to science in 2019, deepening scientific understanding and highlighting the importance of conservation.
This year, Academy researchers collaborated with international scientists to describe a total of 17 fish, 15 geckos, eight flowering plants, six seas slugs, five arachnids, four eels, three ants, three skinks, two skates, two wasps, two mosses, two corals, and two lizards. Flora and fauna were observed across five continents and within three oceans, from Croatian caves to the coastal reefs of Rapa Nui (Easter Island).
“Despite decades of tirelessly scouring some of the most familiar and remote places on Earth, biodiversity scientists estimate that more than 90 percent of nature’s species remain unknown,” said Shannon Bennett, Academy Chief of Science, in a statement. “A rich diversity of plants and animals is what allows life on our planet to thrive: the interconnectedness of all living systems provides collective resilience in the face of our climate crisis. Each newly discovered species serves as an important reminder of the critical role we play in better understanding and preserving these precious ecosystems.”
Terry Gosliner, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Academy, has described one-in-four sea slugs known to science and he adds half a dozen to the animal tree this year. The researcher says that he continues to be impressed by sea slugs’ ability to blend into their surroundings, like the impressive capability of Madrella amphora to mimic snail eggs in their Madang Lagoon, Papua New Guinea environment.
“We recently confirmed through genetics that sea slugs mimic the colors of other species but it’s rare to see sea slugs mimic other animals entirely,” said Gosliner.
Among the 17 species of fish described by the Academy this year, the cat-eyed cardinalfish Siphamia arnazae from Papua New Guinea certainly steals the show. This small fish has a distinctive feline-like eye with a black bar through the center of it.
Also new to science: a fish called Wakanda. Cirrhilabrus wakanda, named after the Marvel country ruled by Black Panther, is a colorful fairy wrasse found in the reefs off the east coast of Zanzibar and Tanzania. Scientists note that the continuation of describing new species throughout the world’s oceans highlights the importance of protecting marine ecosystems against the effects of climate change.
A variety of reptiles were also described, including 15 mottled day geckos, three island-dwelling skinks, and both an orange and high-altitude lizard. Many are listed as critically endangered because they are found in only a handful of places in the world – a small geographic range known as microendism – similarly highlighting the need for conservation.
“If we don’t explore isolated habitats, like mountaintops, we would miss a huge part of the biodiversity that’s unique to these regions,” said Academy Research Associate Aaron Bauer.