From Leapin' Lizards to Walking Sharks: 5 More Species Identified in 2013
From the extinct to the endangered to the flourishing, “new” species are constantly being discovered that have never before been catalogued by modern science. The Australian rainforest, the Amazon and the ocean are all home to animals and plants that we humans have been unknowingly coexisting with. The species listed here are all alive today, though some are endangered. Though some were first observed in prior years, all were identified as distinct during 2013. Either way, they serve as a reminder that much of Mother Earth remains a mystery, even in the present. Recently we gave you some land-based animals; here we present a short roundup of notable watery creatures whose existence modern science officially recognized in 2013.
1. Humpback Dolphin, Australia
The existence of humpback dolphins has been documented, but this variation was discovered in October 2013, swimming in the Pacific off of northern Australia. It is such a new find that the species has yet to be named.
There were already three species of humpback dolphin known—so named for the slight hump just behind its dorsal fin—but this added a fourth, the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement on October 29. The Atlantic humpback dolphin, Sousa teuszii, which swims off West Africa; Sousa plumbea, the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, ranging from the central to western Indian Ocean; Sousa chinensis, another Indo-Pacific humpback, which cruises the western Pacific and eastern Indian oceans, and the latest discovery, off northern Australia, the conservation society said in its statement.
This fourth species was identified after the research team analyzed skull features, tissue samples and mitochondrial and nuclear DNA.
“While the Atlantic humpback dolphin is a recognized species, this work provides the best evidence to date to split the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin into three species, one of which is completely new to science,” the conservation society said.
2. Leaf-Tailed Gecko, Australia
This is one of a number of species identified this year in the rainforests of Australia, but it is anything but new: The critter existed even before Australia split off the prehistoric landmass that today is called Gondwana, the southern portion of the super landmass known as Pangea—pre-dating the dinosaurs by millions of years.
It was one of three species discovered in a remote region of Australia that has been so isolated for so long—millions upon millions of years, in fact—that scientists dubbed the region a “lost world.” In fact the site is so inaccessible that James Cook University tropical biologist Conrad Hoskin and a film crew from National Geographic had to be dropped by helicopter onto the mountain range, Cape Melville. The other finds were a lizard known as a skink, and a yellow frog with brown spots that lives in boulders.
The gecko, Saltuarius eximius, measures eight inches long and lacks eyelids. It began roaming the Earth 510 million years ago and continues to this day, sitting motionless with its head down so as to ambush insects and spiders that pass by.
"The top of Cape Melville is a lost world,” said Hoskin in a statement upon announcing the find in October. “Finding these new species up there is the discovery of a lifetime—I'm still amazed and buzzing from it.”
3. Cocoa Frog, Suriname
Hypsiboas sp., nicknamed for its chocolate-colored exterior, was among at least 60 heretofore unknown species found by a team of field biologists in the remote jungles of southeastern Suriname during a 2012 expedition, Conservation International said in an October statement. The frog climbs into treetops with the help of flat disks on its fingers and toes.
"Like other amphibians, its semi-permeable skin makes it highly sensitive to changes in the environment, especially freshwater,” said Trond Larsen, a tropical ecologist and director of the Rapid Assessment Program at Conservation International, in the statement. “With over 100 species of frogs likely gone extinct over just the last three decades, the discovery of this new species is especially heartening.”
4. Carolina Hammerhead Shark, United States
This one was hiding in plain sight because of its size as well as its location, researchers at the University of South Carolina said. This species of hammerhead shark “looks virtually identical” to what turns out to be its cousin, the scalloped hammerhead. But the similarity ends there, genetically speaking. Its genes are distinct, and the Carolina hammerhead has 10 fewer vertebrae, researchers told LiveScience.com. Sphyrna gilbert was named after Carter Gilbert, curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History from 1961 to 1998. It was he who in 1967 first spotted a scalloped hammerhead that did not look like its established counterparts, the University of South Carolina said in a release. Quattro and his team, including his student William Driggers III, studied that sample and compared it to other tissue samples, finalizing their conclusions in the August 2013 issue of the journal Zootaxa.
5. Epaulette Shark, Indonesia
Apparently the sharks walk in Indonesia, and this year another species was added to the ranks of the so-called walking shark. The epaulette shark increases the blood supply to its brain, shutting down non-essential neural functions, in order to survive in low-oxygen waters, according to MSNBC.
In August scientists announced the discovery of a new species of walking shark off the coast of Indonesia: the epaulette shark. It survives in low-oxygen waters by increasing the blood supply to its brain so it can selectively shut down non-essential neural functions, UPI reported.
As is seen in the video below, the shark propels itself along the sea bottom using its fins as “legs.” Hence the moniker.
"This is the third walking shark species to be described from eastern Indonesia in the past six years, which highlights our tremendous shark and ray biodiversity," said Fahmi, a shark expert, to UPI.
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