These days it is extraordinary to discover even a single species of bird that is new to science, but a recent study has identified not just one, but two new species of owls endemic to the Philippines. The Cebu hawk-owl (Ninox rumseyi) (top) and Camiguin hawk-owl (Ninox leventisi) (bottom) first sparked ideas that they were not simply subspecies of other Ninox hawk-owls found across Asia and Australasia, as was once thought, when researchers heard their highly distinctive calls (both of which can be heard free on AVoCet). Owls do not learn their songs from relatives or other members of their species, but instead they are encoded in their DNA - so researchers were lead to believe that these unique songs must reflect significant genetic differences between the birds in question, suggesting they were separate species. Many years of supporting study have finally culminated in the formal identification of these birds as species new to science. The Camiguin hawk-owl, interestingly, is the first and only owl species known to have blue-grey eyes.
Ref: Cameron L., 2012. Two new owls discovered in the Philippines. Michigan State University News [link]
The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University has come together with a committee of scientists from around the world to compile a top 10 list of new species discovered in 2011. The choices encompass a range of incredible organisms, from fossilised specimens of a curiously shaped lobopod named the “walking cactus” to a new species of snub-nosed monkey from Myanmar that sneezes when it rains. But my personal favourite is the parasitic wasp Kollasmosoma sentum shown in this video. These wasps cruise along at around a centimetre above ground, looking for their desired hosts: ants of the species Cataglyphis ibericus. When a host is found, the wasp dive-bombs towards it and deposits an egg within the space of just 0.052 seconds on average! The interaction may be brief but it is catastrophic for the ant, which will then become the food source for the growing larvae once the eggs hatch. Parasites are so interesting - it’s amazing how some species have evolved such ingenious adaptations in order to exploit others for their own survival.
Click here to find out more about all of the top 10.
24 new species of skink (lizards of the family Scincidae) from the islands of the Caribbean have been identified in a paper published today in the journal Zootaxa - the first time more than 20 reptile species have been described at once since the 1800s. Researchers examined museum specimens, DNA sequences and characteristics of the animals themselves in order to describe the new species, which include the Anguilla Bank skink (pictured). But while being “brand new” in the eyes of science, these New World skinks, which arrived to the Americas across the seas from Africa around 18 million years ago, may not be around for much longer. These species are all vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, primarily as a result of predation from the mongoose, which was introduced from India in the late nineteenth century to control rat pests in sugarcane fields. The mongoose has caused widespread extinctions and decline in reptile populations in the Caribbean, along with pressures from other human impacts such as habitat loss.
Ref: Voss K., 2012. 24 New Species of Lizards Discovered on Caribbean Islands are Close to Extinction. Penn State University [link]
A six-week expedition in the Philippines led by the California Academy of Sciences has unveiled a treasure trove of new species, including 200 marine invertebrates (such as the cute nudibranch shown here), 11 fish and 40 spiders. One of the more intriguing discoveries is a ‘laughing’ cicada, which makes a sound like that of high-pitched laughter. The Philippines has more diversity, both terrestrial and marine, than any other place on earth.
Ref: Lichauco de Leon (2011) ‘Laughing’ cicada among new species found in Philippines. guardian.co.uk [link]