The wildest discoveries of 2017
The world of wildlife is highly dynamic- a process of generation and extinction, some of it nature-made and much man-made. But even as conservationists and environmentalists shout out loud about the diminishing species, there lies a sliver of hope- in newly discovered species. Yes, some of these discoveries are made out in the wild, while others are found stashed away are specimens, posing answers to evolutionary questions. But real hope lies in the real, living ones many of which are unravelled from remote areas which were inaccessible to humans but are now being explored. This is not surprising, considering that we humans have limited access and insights despite the advancement we have made.
There are about 100 million different species co-existing with us on our planet, whereas between 1.4 and 1.8 million species have been scientifically identified.
These statistics can indicate that there is so much more left for man to unleash and discover, and be a spectacle to the unending bounties of nature. But first, let’s put this in perspective with a roundup of the year gone by- 2017 in terms of wildlife discoveries.
1. Bhupathy’s Purple Pig-nosed frog (India): Much of discovery happens in the hidden realms, one such very thriving ecosystem being underwater terrains. This habitat is plush with ploughing beings from the reptile and amphibian world, a recent discovery being that of the Purple Pig-nosed frog. The frog is named Nasikabatrachus bhupathi after the respected herpetologist, Dr Subramaniam Bhupathy. It was discovered by a group of scientists in the biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats. What makes this species unique is that it represents a specimen of countless years of evolution. The frog spends its entire life underground and only comes outside to mate, during the rains. It is thoroughly adapted for this “undercover” life with its small eyes, long snout, and short limbs equipped with hardened ‘spades’. It is closely related to another purple frog.
2. Skywalker hoolock gibbon (China): This is a case of mixing up man-made and nature-made, for the discoverers of this primate were Star War fans and hence named this species the Skywalker Hoolock Gibbon. Scientists discovered the species in the Gaoligongshan nature reserve. The primate is distinct from the other two types of Gibbon species (the western (Hoolock hoolock) and eastern hoolock (H. leuconedys) gibbons), with its distinct facial markings of white eyebrows and beards. After a genetic and physical comparison, it was found to be an entirely new species belonging to the Gibbon family, with thinner and widely spaced eye sockets and distinct shape of their skulls and teeth. Scientists have estimated that about 200 Skywalker gibbons are living in China and in part of Myanmar, affording it a status of “endangered”.
3. The Harry Potter spider (India): Another one from the Western Ghats of Karnataka, this spider is a must-see for Harry Potter and wildlife fans alike, after all, it closely resembles the sorting hat in the Harry Potter series. It is aptly named as Eriovixia gryffindori, after the original owner of the hat, Godric Gryffindor, one of the four founders of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The spider is tiny, about 7 mm long and thrives in dead and decaying leaves.
4. The Pink-leaf insect (Malaysia): This is a Eulophophyllum kirki katydid insect which was discovered in Borneo in Malaysia. It is named kirki after the photographer of this only known species, Peter Kirk. Its pink-leaf appearance is very well suited to its leaf-dwelling ways, it uses colour camouflage and mimicry as defence tools. Moreover, it shows sexual dimorphism in the form of colour- males are green and females are pink.
5. The Game of Thrones ant (Papua New Guinea): Fiction and fantasy seem to be taking on a new form as the insect world gets inspired and conjures up new species (or rather, humans are inspired from nature!). The tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea to a newly discovered species called “Phidole Drogon” or the dragon ant. The discovery was made with the help of 3D imaging technology, which was used to study the spines of these ants, and was found to be made of muscle. This opens up our eyes to new morphological forms out there, which we may never even notice if we do not care to look closely.
6. A new bleeding tomato (Pennsylvania, US): Though not exactly discovered as a species, this one has been named as a new species by scientists. It has been named Solanum ossicruentum. This plant species is proof enough that wonder and weirdness exist not only in the animal world but even in the plant world. It is known to “bleed” i.e. the young fruits of the species stain blood red when cut because of exposure to air the fruit flesh oxidizes from whitish-green to blood red.
Clearly, man is still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the floral and faunal diversity. In fact, the discovery of new species gives the man hope, of a thriving blue planet tomorrow. While we may be wrecking up what we know exists, there is little chance of disrupting what we do not know exist in the first place. Or maybe we should know the magnitude of what exists in the natural world, and that will give the man an impetus to conserve what remains?
Cover Photo: Chin Boon Leng, Singapore
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