Though many animals and plants are at risk of going extinct, that doesn’t mean we aren’t finding new ones. In fact, new species are being discovered all the time. In 2015, over 100 new plant and animal species were discovered by the California Academy of Sciences researchers alone.
And though some of these might sound more like Dungeons and Dragons monsters, they are most definitely real creatures.
Researchers discovered new species of Dracula ants.
These tiny ants really do earn their name. They suck hemolymph — the insect equivalent of blood — from their own young. And, like their namesake, you’re not likely to see them running around in the sunshine. These tiny ants prefer to live in tunnels and pockets under the forest floor.
They were discovered by Dr. Brian Fisher, the California Academy of Sciences’ resident ant expert.
These weren’t the only vampires discovered this year. Two species of brightly-colored Javanese vampire crabs were scientifically cataloged this year after researchers spotted them in an aquarium store. Locals had known about them and sold them as pets for years before scientists had a chance to investigate.
How about some slugs that look like they’re ready for Mardi Gras.
Researcher Terry Gosliner’s team found nine new species of nudibranchs — a kind of ooo-la-la-looking sea slug. Two were even found during student training exercises, and three of the new species were found in one particular spot in the Philippines.
“It was like an underwater Easter egg hunt. It was one of the most exciting scientific dives of my 50-year career,” said Gosliner.
Nudibranchs can come in a startling variety of colors and shapes (including our bulbous friend up at the top) and can be quite poisonous. Some can even steal stinging nematocyst cells from jellyfish; some can steal chloroplasts from algae too. This means they can photosynthesize like a plant!
They found strange and spooky sharks and rays.
Another researcher, David Ebert, spent his year finding rare, unknown sharks. Ebert found ghost sharks, a deep-sea catshark, and an electric torpedo ray.
“Torpedo rays have an amazing set of defenses,” said Ebert. “These rays can discharge a powerful electric shock of 45 volts — enough to knock down a human adult.”
These weren’t the only shark species discovered this year. Researcher Victoria Vásquez discovered the ninja lanternshark. Its body was also stored at the California Academy of Sciences.
The ninja lanternshark is a small, sleek, black shark that lives in the deep ocean. Glow-in-the-dark organs help them camouflage themselves in the darkness.
And 10 little goblin spiders.
“Small-but-mighty goblin spiders are extremely unusual,” said researcher Charles Griswold. “Unlike most spiders that spin webs above the ground and hunt above the leaves, these goblins exist in darkness. They use their tough armor to bulldoze their way through the substrate, parting leaves and soil as easily as a fish moves through water.”
Griswold and his team found 10 new species of these incredibly tiny spiders living in Madagascar.
These are only a handful of the thousands of species discovered last year alone.
It wasn’t just the one academy working on this; people around the world discovered new species this year. There was a frog that looks suspiciously like Kermit the Frog and a catfish that bore an uncanny resemblance to Greedo, an alien from “Star Wars” (above).
Some of the discoveries were made by field expeditions, but others relied on tracking down and analyzing DNA samples. One group of researchers from the University of Basel even identified a new species of cicada by listening to its song.
These incredible discoveries are a glimpse at a hidden world.
The Age of Discovery might have ended in the 18th century, but for biologists, there’s still a lot to find. So far, humanity has discovered and named over a million species of plants, animals, and other forms of life.
But that might be only about a tenth of what’s actually out there. There’s still a lot more left.