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Christopher C. Austin

10 Awesome New Species Discovered in 2013

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Christopher C. Austin

Geckos and shrubs and sharks, oh my! 2013 was a big year for new species. Scientists found hundreds of them this year. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Cape Melville Leaf-Tailed Gecko

Wikimedia Commons

The Cape Melville Leaf-Tailed Gecko was discovered on an expedition to the northern tip of Queensland, Australia led by James Cook University’s Conrad Hoskin and Harvard University’s Tim Laman, who is also a National Geographic photographer. The gecko grows to almost eight inches long and hunts mainly at night, sitting motionless on a rock or in a tree and waiting for an unsuspecting insect or spider to pass by. The gecko’s camouflaged skin allows it to blend in with its surroundings.

2. Lyre Sponge

Photo by 2013 MBARI

Discovered in the northeast Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, this carnivorous sponge lives mostly in deep water (around 3399 meters deep) and looks like a harp. The lyre sponge—also known as Chondrocladia lyra—has two to six horizontal branches. Each branch holds more than 20 parallel vertical branches that are each capped with a small ball. When a plankton comes in contact with these branches, the lyre sponge is able to catch it as prey.

3. Paedophryne amanuensis

Photo by Christopher C. Austin

Just in case “Paedophryne amanuensis” is kind of a mouthful, you can also call this tiny frog the world’s smallest vertebrate. The frog was discovered near the Amau village in Papua, New Guinea. The average adult frog in this species only measures 7.7 millimeters; that’s small enough to fit easily on the surface of a dime.

4. Cape Melville Shade Skink

The Cape Melville Shade Skink was found on the same expedition as the Leaf-Tailed Gecko. However, unlike the gecko, the skink hunts mainly in the day. The skink’s scientific name is Saproscincus saltus; "saltus" means leaping. While hunting, the skink hops from boulder to boulder in search of insects.

5. Eugenia

Photo by David Rahebevitra

Not all new species are animals. This new species, Eugenia petrikensis, is a beautiful shrub that grows to two meters and has bright clusters of small magenta flowers. Eugenia was discovered this past year in Madagascar.

6. Semachrysa jade

Photo by Guek Hock Ping

Unlike most new species, scientists did not discover the Semachrysa jade butterfly. Instead, an avid photographer took its picture in a Malaysian park. He had no idea that the butterfly had never been documented before. It was only when Shaun Winterton, an entomologist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, discovered the photo on Flickr that he recognized the butterfly as a new species.

7. Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia

Artwork by Chen Wang

This new species of hangingflies was found fossilized in a Middle Jurassic deposit in China’s Inner Mongolia. These insects hung beneath foliage and captured other insects to eat.

8. Carolina Hammerhead

Photo by Save Our Seas Foundation / Peter Verhoog

The Carolina Hammerhead (Sphyrna gilbert) was discovered this year off the South Carolina coast. This new species of hammerhead shark looks almost identical to the scalloped hammerhead. However, the new species contains 10 fewer vertebrae and is genetically distinct.

9. Olinguito

Imagine a cross between a teddy bear and a housecat, and you’ve just pictured an olinguito. The animal, which is a little over a foot long and weighs around two pounds, is indigenous to the forests of Ecuador and Colombia. While it was first designated as a new species in 2013, the olinguito has been hiding in plain sight for a long time—at the Smithsonian-run National Zoo in Washington. For the past several years, scientists believed that the critter housed in the zoo was an olingo. The zoo first became curious when their supposed “olingo” wouldn’t mate with any other olingos. Turns out the olingo wasn’t picky; it was actually an olinguito. It was only during an expedition to South America that the olinguito was discovered as a separate species.

10. Blotched Boulder Frog

The Blotched Boulder Frog was also discovered on the Cape Melville expedition, but it has a unique quirk: the Blotched Boulder Frog only mates in the rain. During the dry season in Australia, the frog lives deep within a boulder field that’s cool and moist. The Blotched Boulder Frog only comes to the surface when it rains.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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