Researchers at the California Academy of Sciences and their international collaborators have discovered 229 new species of plants and animals this year. The list of animal discoveries includes a new frog, a new snake, and a new seahorse, as well as two tardigrades, three sharks, four eels, seven spiders, 19 fishes (including a neon-colored one), 28 ants, 34 sea slugs, and a whopping 120 wasps. On the plant side, there are seven new flowering plants, one liverwort, and one moss.
The wasps, all members of the Pison genus, come from Australia and New Guinea and are notorious thanks to their rather grim life cycles. The female wasps inject venom into spiders to paralyze them. They then drag the poor arachnid into their nest and lay eggs on top of it. When the wasp larvae hatch, they have a living but immobile spider to feast on.
The new seahorse is called the Japan pig seahorse and is roughly the size of a jelly bean. Its weird coloration is perfect for blending into the algae-covered reefs in southeastern Japan where it lives. Just like several other pygmy seahorses, this new species has wing-like protrusions on its neck. Unlike other species, however, it only has one pair and scientists are unsure of their function.
Researchers have also discovered a new coral snake from an island in the Philippines. It is black-and-white banded and is likely related to similar species from the region. However, while other species have blue tails, this particular species has a distinctive bright orange one.
"The evolutionary origins of this new orange-tailed species remain a mystery," Dr Alan Leviton, who described the new species, said in a statement. "The species might be more widespread than we think, there might be close relatives we haven't discovered yet, or it could be the sole surviving member of a lost lineage or, maybe orange is just the new blue."
Among the new plants discovered, Miconia rheophytica is of particular note. It lives in the crevices of steep canyons in the Colombian Andes, near fast-moving rivers. It is already endangered as a proposed hydroelectric dam will flood the only region where it exists.
"Biodiversity scientists estimate that less than 10 percent of species on Earth have been discovered," Dr Shannon Bennett, Academy Chief of Science, stated. "Academy scientists tirelessly explore near and far, from the familiar forests in our backyards to remote locations as deep as 500 feet beneath the ocean surface. Each species discovery may hold the key to groundbreaking innovations in science, technology, or society and helps us better understand the diversity of life that makes up thriving ecosystems. These new discoveries also highlight the critical role we play as stewards of our one, precious planet."