According to some scientists, only 10% of the estimated 20 million or so species on planet earth have ever been properly discovered, analyzed, and named. With between 200 and 2,000 of these species going extinct each year, the risk is that these species may disappear before scientists can ever learn more about them, and in doing so find out how best to preserve and protect them. Luckily, through efforts of the scientists at the California Academy of Sciences, a huge step has been made to better understand the biodiversity of our planet, with 221 plant and animal species were discovered in 2014 alone.
Among these species are 110 newly discovered ants, 16 beetles, and 3 spiders, along with 25 different species of plants. Yet these discoveries weren’t just restricted to life on land- 24 different species of sea slug were also discovered, along with 2 marine worms, 9 barnacles, 2 octocorals, and 28 different kinds of fishes. Rounding out the findings was one mammal discovery and a new species of waterbear- one of the most fascinating and endurable species on earth, which can survive both decades without water and the harsh vacuum of space.
Although all of these species are remarkable in their own way, we have chosen three of these species that stand out to us- and the California Academy of Sciences- the most. These include a new species of elephant shrew, a remarkable ant that sacrifices its own life for the sake of the colony, and an entire new genus of spider.
The Elephant Shrew (Mascroscelides micus)
Contrary to their namesake, elephant shrews aren’t actually that closely related to true shrews. Their closest relatives are in fact the sea cow, the aardvark, and- and this is where their name is at half-right- the elephant. Elephant shrews, also known as the round-eared sengi, are found only in Africa, and this particular discovery, named the “Eteendka round-eared sengi” or Mascroscelides micus, is the smallest known elephant shrew. Lacking the dark skin pigment of many other shrews, resulting in its distinct rust-colored appearance, it was found in the Namib Desert of Namibia, a remote area of the world as of yet little explored by scientists.
The Hero Ant (Malagridis sofina)
Perhaps one of the most distinctive species discovered in the last year, in behavior if not in appearance, is the “hero ant”, or Malagridis sofina. This otherwise unassuming ant, native to Madagascar, is remarkable in two ways: firstly, it is known for creating unique, funnel-like nests that are designed to prevent the colony from suffocating in the area’s non-porous, oxygen-restricting clay. Yet the most striking behavior of the hero ant- and the source of its name- is the species’ unique defensive behavior. When another, foreign ant approaches the edge of a hero ant nest, the colony sends out one of its own to “tackle” the intruding ant, sending both ants tumbling over the lip of the nest, killing both.
Finally, on the other side of the world, in Malaysia and the Philippines, three new kinds of spider have been discovered, all “ray spiders”. Only as large as a grain of sand, these spiders specialize in making cone-shaped webs in which the spiders, rather than simply letting prey fly or fall into, hang onto tightly to before letting go of, flinging the web forward to catch their prey.
Two of these species were discovered in the mountains of the Philippines, along the slopes of long-dormant volcanoes, and both belong to a new genus of ray spider, Tagalongonia. The final spider, though belonging to a genus already known in China, is also distinctive for being the first ray spider discovered in Malaysia in over a hundred years.
- 221 new species discovered by the California Academy of Sciences– CalAcademy.org
- Encyclopedia of Life – RicochetScience
- Ray Spiders – “Theridiosoma gemmosum” by Phil – Flickr: Theridiosoma gemmosum X2. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Theridiosoma_gemmosum.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Theridiosoma_gemmosum.jpg
Devin Windelspecht is a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston MA where he majors in international relations.