Jens Kipping
Jens Kipping

Ruby-Red Seadragons and Other New Species Make Top 10 List

Jens Kipping
Jens Kipping

Nearly 18,000 new species are discovered or identified each year. Some of those are named for celebrities, and others are given more colorful monikers. Some are big, and many are tiny, but all of them enrich our understanding of this planet we call home.

Still, some are more exciting than others—at least according to the State University of New York (SUNY)’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), which asked an international committee of scientists to choose the most notable species discovered in the past year. The ESF has just released its Top 10 New Species list, which includes a ruby-red seadragon, a new human relative, and a damselfly named for a Pink Floyd album.

"In the past half-century we have come to recognize that species are going extinct at an alarming rate,” ESF president Quentin Wheeler said in a press statement. “It is time that we accelerate species exploration, too. Knowledge of what species exist, where they live, and what they do will help mitigate the biodiversity crisis and archive evidence of the life on our planet that does disappear in the wild.”

With so many new species described every year, why does the ESF consider these 10 especially important? Read on to find out. (Note that the species are in alphabetical order by scientific name. They're not ranked.)


Washington Tapia

You would think that we’ve learned all there is to learn about the giant tortoises of the Galápagos Islands. You’d be wrong. Last year, genetic analysis of two tortoise populations on Isla Santa Cruz revealed that they were actually two different species: the established Chelonoidis porteri on the western half, and a new group, Chelonoidis donfaustoi. The latter, which comprises only about 250 tortoises, was named in honor of a park ranger and conservationist who called himself Don Fausto.


Paulo M. Gonella

Any carnivorous plant is worth a second look, but the giant sundew is extra cool. Growing up to 48 inches, this plant has earned its name. D. magnifica was first spotted by an amateur botanist atop the single mountain in Brazil where it grows. Reginaldo Vasconcelos took a snapshot of the plant and shared it on Facebook, where it was seen by plant researcher Paulo Gonella, who knew at once he was looking at a new species.


John Hawks, Wits University

The hominin family tree got a little bigger last year when the remains of at least 15 individuals were discovered in a deep cave in South Africa. They have a never-before-seen mix of features reminiscent of various ancient human relatives, including Australopithecus and other Homo species. H. naledi was approximately the size of a petite modern human, but it had a brain the size of an orange. Other features are just as confounding. Scientists are currently working to determine just how old the remains are.


Souza, Ferreira, and Senna

Isopods are armored, many-legged crustaceans. This group, which includes pill bugs, is large and diverse, yet the newly discovered I. iuiuensis does something no other isopod can: It builds little huts for itself out of mud where it can safely shed its exoskeleton. The tiny bug, less than half an inch long, was found at the bottom of a sinkhole.


Theodore W. Pietsch, University of Washington

Ahhh, anglerfish. These mistresses of trickery and horror are, without a doubt, some of the weirdest creatures in the ocean, and that’s saying something. L. dinema has the unfortunate distinction of being discovered in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill during an assessment of damages to marine habitats.


Josefin Stiller, Nerida Wilson, and Greg Rouse

Like their cousins the seahorses, seadragons are long, bony fish with trumpet-like snoots. Only the third species of seadragon discovered, P. dewysea is about 10 inches long and makes its home in slightly deeper waters than its kin.


Michael Darby

This one’s something of a bait and switch: Scientists named this featherwing beetle after Paddington Bear in order to draw attention not to the beetles, but to the threatened Andean spectacled bear that inspired Paddington in the first place. The books tell of a bear that showed up in Paddington station with a sign reading “Please look after this bear.” The beetles themselves (remember them?) are eensy-weensy—just 1/25th of an inch long—and, like the bears, come from Peru.


Marta Palmero, Institut Catalá de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP)

This species was identified from a single specimen, a female that traversed the forests of what is now Spain around 11.6 million years ago. The fruit trees in which she made her home are gone now, and have been replaced by a landfill, which is where her remains were found. The little ape’s nickname is a diminutive form of Eulàlia, a patron saint of Barcelona.


Thomas Couvreur

We should never assume we’ve seen all there is to see. This flowering tree, completely new to science, was found just a few meters off the road in a national park in Gabon. Not only is this tree a new species, but it so differs from others that it was given its own genus, Sirdavidia, thereby entering the ranks of the many organisms named for Sir David Attenborough.


Jens Kipping

The number of known damselflies shot up last year, when a single publication described 60 new species, including the pretty sparklewings shown here. Scientists named this new member of the genus Umma after the Pink Floyd album Ummagumma.

Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)

Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]


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