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Stunning species: scientists discover new creatures in surprising places.


What do a striped frog, a rat-eating plant, and a poisonous, hot-pink millipede have in common? They're all strange, recently discovered species.

Even after centuries of exploration, scientists are naming new species at a rate of 15,000 to 20,000 each year--with no sign of slowing down. "We live on an amazingly biologically diverse planet," says Quentin Wheeler, a taxonomist who classifies species at Arizona State University. "So almost everywhere you look, species have found a way of carving out a living."

Taxonomists have identified about 2 million plant and animal species. They estimate that another 10 million to 100 million remain undiscovered--and they warn that we need to find them fast. Habitat loss, climate change, and other issues threaten biodiversity--the variety of different species. "We fear that we're losing species faster than we're actually discovering and describing them," says Wheeler. So the race is on to find new species, and explorers are getting help from modern technology.



Little-explored biodiversity hot spots are obvious places to search, but the challenge is reaching them. "It's not too difficult to run across new species, if you're looking in places that haven't been very well-studied," says Laurence Madin, a marine biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. High-tech tools helped Madin's team on a 2007 expedition to the Celebes Sea near the Philippines. He says, "We used deep-sea-exploration robots--remotely operated vehicles that would enable us to go down to a depth of 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) and look around and collect things without having to send a person down there.


The remotely operated submarine relayed video to the scientists on the ship above. That's how they spotted a previous]y unknown squidworm--a bizarre-looking marine worm with what look like long tentacles growing flora its head.

Oceans aren't the only hard-to-reach environments that can be accessed with modern tools. Canopy cranes lift researchers high into forest treetops. Helicopters drop expeditioners into remote areas, such as the mountaintop rainforest in Papua New Guinea, where researchers found a lime-green jumping spider and many other unknown species in 2008. And satellite imagery helps researchers plan their trips. Ironically, deforestation, or clearing away trees, sometimes leads to discovery, since logging roads open the way into previously undisturbed forests.



New species aren't found only in exotic places. "People sometimes find them in places where they've gone all their lives," says Madin. "They just happen to look under the right leaf, or they happen to have the right type of instrument or microscope." That's what happened in the state of Georgia in 2007, when a researcher discovered the tiny patch-nosed salamander under a pile of leaves.

People who find an unknown species don't always realize it. "The most difficult thing in species exploration is that you have to know all the species that have already been described in order to recognize the new ones," says Wheeler.

Many new species ate discovered in old museum collections. The scientists who collected the specimens brought them back to museums for study. With a shortage of experts to examine them all, many specimens sit unidentified for decades. "There is a very significant backlog of species new to science that haven't been named yet that are sitting in museums, waiting for the right person to come along and recognize them," says Wheeler.

Wheeler discovered a flightless, mold-eating beetle among museum specimens that had been collected in North Carolina in the 1920s. The discoverer of a species names it, so in 2005, Wheeler dubbed the beetle Agathidium vaderi. The reason? "It has a head that, if you look at it from the top, reminded me of Darth Vader's shiny helmet," he says.


Before naming a species, the discoverer must confirm that no one else has already described the organism. This involves studying scientific literature and comparing specimens from museums around the world. Online databases make this search easier and often turn up additional previously unknown species. During their research on A. vaderi, Wheeler and a colleague identified 65 new beetles.

Analyzing DNA (genetic material) can confirm a species was previously unknown. It can also unmask species that look the same but aren't "When you look at their genetic composition, you may find that they're sufficiently different that they should be considered different species," says Madin.

Other discoveries ate obvious. When researchers spotted a 0.9 m (3 ft)-tall whiskered monkey, called a kipunji, in East Africa, they were shocked it hadn't been found sooner. A 1.2 m (4 ft)-tall carnivorous plant that dines on rats also seemed hard to miss, but it went unseen for centuries. "It always amazes me when large plants and animals go undetected so long," says Wheeler. "That really highlights how little we know about life on this planet."



Scientific Name: Hyloscirtus tigrinus

Home: Colombia

Fun Fact: Treefrogs' suckerlike discs on their toes help them cling to surfaces.

Discovered: 2007


Scientific Name: Desmoxytes purpurosea

Home: Thailand

Fun Fact: This bright pink millipede produces toxic cyanide to protect itself

from predators.

Discovered: 2007



Scientific Name: [none yet]

Home: Papua New Guinea

Fun Fact: This is one of 20 new species of katydid collected from the forest

canopy in the Muller Range.

Discovered: 2009



This canopy crane helps researchers find new species 40 meters (131 feet) in the air.

BIODIVERSlTY HOT SPOTS The regions shown here exhibit extreme habitat loss and high levels of endemic species--those found nowhere else. Together, they contain 45 percent of known plant diversity and 35 percent of endemic land vertebrates. They are also the best places for discovering new species.




PREDICT * Can you guess the common names of the newly discovered species shown below?


1 The scientists who discover a new species get the right to name it. They can name the species whatever they want-after people, places, or even the creature's appearance. Take a close look at the pictures below.




2 If you were going to name these species after their appearance, what would you call each of them?

3 Write the name in the box provided.

4 When everyone has finished step 3, your teacher will reveal the animals' common names.




CONCLUSIONS * Were you able to predict the species' names? Did the name chosen by the scientist who discovered the creature suit each species? Explain.


Clockwise from top left: Pinocchio frog [no scientific name yet]; Pink handfish [no scientific name yet]; Simpsons or "Mr. Burns" toad [no scientific name yet]; Tube-nosed of "Yoda" bat [no scientific name yet]; Psychedelic frog, of Histiophryne psychedefica; Yeti crab, or Kiwa hirsuta


Stunning Species


* What is biodiversity and why is it important?

* Where on Earth do you think you could discover new species of plants or animals?

* How would you know if you discovered a new species?


* The WWF has more than 1,300 ongoing conservation projects around the world, where they work in a variety of ways to encourage biodiversity.

* In 1758, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus outlined the binomial nomenclature system of naming species in the 10th edition of his book Systema Naturae. In this book, Linnaeus classified about 4,400 species of animals and 7,700 species of plants. He devised this system so that all scientists could communicate about specific species, no matter what their language.


* In the article, scientists mention that we are losing habitats at an alarming rate. They fear that we may be losing species before we even discover them. However, the article also states that deforestation has helped scientists identify some new species. Do you think deforestation is beneficial overall, or not? Explain your reasoning.


Have students create a dichotomous key to identify their backpacks. Put students into groups and have them create the key based on the properties of their backpacks. Have them start with five properties (size, shape, color, weight, and accessories). Divide those properties into subgroups. Continue that process until a specific backpack can be identified. They could even come up with a scientific name for their backpack. When each group has completed its key, switch groups and have each group use the key to identify another group's backpacks.


You can access these Web links at

* VIDEO EXTRA: Watch videos of Conservation International's species-gathering expedition to Ecuador at: /ecuador/nangaritza/pages/dispatches.aspx.

* Check out WWF's Biodiversity 911 Web site that has resources and games:

* For beautiful images and videos on some of Earth's amazing creatures, visit ARKive's Web site:
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Title Annotation:BIOLOGY: SPECIES
Author:Adams, Jacqueline
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 9, 2011
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