– by Brendan Reid, Editor –
The Earth has an incredibly diverse ecosystem, one that is home to millions of different species. Though it seems we have discovered them all by now, the truth is anything but. There are an estimated 7.77 million different animal species on this planet (including bugs) and of that number, only 953,000 are properly documented. That leaves about 81% of Earth’s creatures unknown to science, and hundreds are being discovered each year.
As a result of the intensive processes required to document an organism, it takes several years before a newly discovered species is publicly unveiled. Here are 10 of the most interesting animals that were revealed in 2015.
1. Hog-Nosed Rat (Hyorhinomys Stuempkei)
Discovered on the Sulawesi Island of Indonesia, the hog-nosed rat has several features not normally seen in rats. It has large ears, powerful hind legs, a nose like a pig, and lower teeth that are proportionally massive, all in service of hunting small insects and invertebrates. The hog-nosed rat is so different from other rats that is has been given a new genus, hyorhinomys. The mountainous regions of Sulawesi Island are largely unstudied, and the hog-nosed rat is likely just the first of many species that will be uncovered in it’s wilderness.
2. World’s Tiniest Snail (Acmella Nana)
Acmella nana is a snail of truly minuscule proportions. Measuring just 0.7 mm in diameter, the invertebrate displaced China’s angustophila dominikae as the world’s smallest snail when it found on the island of Borneo. Snail habitats are very specific, considering their relative lack of mobility. The entire population of a snail species the size of a. nana can exist in a space smaller then a square mile, and as an single organism it will adapt to meet the ambiguities of its small-scale home.
3. Mutable Rainfrog (Pristimantis Mutabilis)
Until the mutable rainfrog was discovered in the forests of Ecuador’s Reserva La Gralarias, is was believed that no vertebrate had the ability to change its skin texture. A trait commonly seen in octopi and cuttlefish, mutability allows an animal to change its skin to match the appearance its physical environment. Ecuadorian researchers first discovered the mutable rainfrog with skin that resembled moss, but when it was placed in a white cup, its skin smoothed out within minutes. The mutable rainfrog is shifting the paradigm of taxonomical identification, for it raises many questions about the reliability of physical appearances when it comes to identifying new species. Things are not always as they seem, and many species we claim to know may be harbouring traits that we have yet to observe.
4. Ninja Lantern Shark (Etmopterus Benchleyi)
The ocean is the most mysterious ecosystem on the planet. Less then 5% of it has been physically explored, and of an estimated 1 million marine species in the seas, only about 226,000 have been documented. That list has gotten slightly larger with the discovery of the ninja lantern shark. With a scientific name coined after Jaws writer Peter Benchley, and a common name chosen by researcher Vicky Vasquez’s young cousins, the ninja lantern shark is a truly unique deep-sea creature. Discovered off the Pacific coast of California, the ninja lantern shark is only 18 inches in length, lives at a depth of about 1,000 meters, and glows in the dark. The shark’s phosphorescence is very strategic, as it’s pores glow faintly against it’s black skin in an imitation of the limited light of the deep. This renders the shark invisible, and allows it to hunt prey and hide from predators.
5. Ruby Seadragon (Phyllopteryx Dewysea)
The ruby seadragon joins an exclusive club of species, one that contains only two other members: the leafy seadragon (phycordurus eques) and the common seadragon (phyllopteryx taeniolatus). Seadragon’s are docile creatures that live exclusively off the coast of southern Australia, and scientists believe the ruby seadragon lives at deeper depths then its cousins. Deeper waters absorb greater spectrums of light, and a certain depth red is all but invisible, thus allowing the ruby seadragon to hide in plain sight.
6. Attenbourough’s Black-eyed Satyr (Euptychia Attenboroughi)
Attenborough’s black-eyed satyr is a rare butterfly species found only in the Upper Amazon Basin. The butterfly joins the list of species named after Sir David Attenborough, which includes the ghostly shrimp ctenocheloides attenborougi and the prehistoric pliosaur attenborosaurus conyberi. Satyr butterflies have eye-like markings on their wings, but the orange hue of the black-eyed satyr is what sets it apart from its cousins. Like the acmella nana, the black eyed satyr lives in a very selective habitat, one we have explore many times before. This begs the question: what other undiscovered creatures are hiding under our very noses?
7. Prehistoric Terror Bird (Llallawavis Scagliai)
Terror birds were a group of apex predators that existed in the Cenozoic era (about 65.5 million years ago) in what is now South America. Terror birds resembled modern day cassowaries and ostriches, but were much more ferocious in stature. In 2010 in Argentina, a near full skeleton of terror bird llallawavis scaglia was discovered, and now the scientists’ findings have been released. The skeleton was remarkably intact, and told us a great deal about the bird’s physiology and habits. The creature stood at about 4 feet in height, which was a moderate size for it’s species, and scans of it’s skull revealed insight about its hearing capabilities. L. scaglia heard in very low frequencies, which likely helped it track prey, as lower frequencies travel greater distances.
8. African Golden Wolf (Canis Aureus)
The discovery of the African golden wolf is something that was only possible with the help of modern DNA testing. The golden jackal, a canine that lives in both Africa and Eurasia, has been revealed as two different species, with the African population being more closely related to wolves and coyotes, thus giving it the name golden wolf. The golden jackal and wolf are strikingly similar in appearance and behaviour, and this is likely what led to the mix up. The golden wolf marks the first canine discovery in over 150 years, and proves there are still larger mammals in the world waiting to be found.
9. Sea Slug (Phyllodesmium Acanthorhinum)
Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum is a beautifully coloured aquatic gastropod that resides near the Ryukuyan Islands of Japan. The discovery of this sea slug has proven very important to scientist, for p. acanthorhinum is the missing link between species that feed on jellfish-like hydroids, and species that feed on coral. Sea slug’s digestive systems are fascinating, for their guts are lined with living algae that help them break down food and provide them with nutrients. P. acanthorhinum’s unique digestive tract allows it to break down many different kinds of food, and has helped researchers understand the symbiotic relationship between the algae and sea slug.
10. Skeletorus the Peacock Spider (Maratus Sceletus)
The latest addition to the peacock spider family is maratus sceletus, a small arachnid that has a dramatically different appearance from its cousins. M. sceletus, aptly nicknamed “Skeletorus” by the Queensland graduate student who discovered it in Australia, has white marking along its body that resemble a skeleton. Other members of the peacock spider family are brightly coloured, and use this colouration to attract mates, along with the courtship dance they perform. Skeletorus also partakes in this dance, and his unique coloration suggests a diversity within the species that has yet to be fully understood.