By Shreya Dasgupta
Discovering a new species is always exciting—it shows that much of our world remains to be explored and described. This year, too, scientists discovered and described several new species of animals and plants, including 13 new dancing peacock spiders, a new crab that was found in a pet market, a new species of whale, a tarantula that shoots balls of barbed hair at enemies and one bird that is now 13 distinct species.
Below are Mongabay's picks for top new species discovered in 2016 (in no particular order). Note: for each entry, the publication and author are listed in parentheses.
1. New species of Beaked Whale (Mongabay, by Jeremy Hance)
When a dead whale washed up in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands in 2014, people believed that it was a Baird's beaked whale (Berardius bairdii). But subsequent DNA tests showed that the whale is very likely a new species of beaked whale, smaller and darker than its cousin, the Baird's, with a larger dorsal fin and a distinctly shaped skull. The whale appears to be rare, although Japanese whalers—who refer to the whale as karasu, or raven, due to its dark color—claim to have seen it in life. However, very little is known about the new beaked whale's behavior, and scientists are yet to give it a new name.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Baird's beaked whales are capable of diving to depths of 9,840 feet (3,000 meters).
2. Thirteen New Dancing Peacock Spiders (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta, Mike Gaworecki)
In two separate studies, researchers announced the discovery of several new species of brilliantly colored peacock spiders—miniscule spiders with elaborate dance moves, known only from Australia. In one paper, biologist Jürgen C. Otto, and spider expert David Knowles described seven new species of peacock spiders, including Maratus vespa, a spider with a distinct pattern of wasp on its tail flap, and M. bubo, which seems to have the face of a horned owl inscribed on its back. In a second paper, researchers Barbara Baehr and Robert Whyte described six new species of peacock spiders, including Maratus lincunxin, named after Chinese-trained dancer and Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin.
The pattern on M. bubo's back resembles an owl.
Photo credit: Jürgen C. Otto
3. Rare Devil’s Orchid (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Discovered in the forests of southern Colombia, the new species of reddish-violet orchid Telipogon diabolicus has a wine-red or maroon reproductive structure that resembles a devil's head. The new orchid is known only from a single population of 30 orchids found, and is already on the verge of extinction. The lone population is found in a vulnerable habitat close to the main road Pasto-Mocoa.
Close-up of the new orchid species Telipogon diabolicus showing its flower resembling a devil's head.
Photo credit: Marta Kolanowska
4. Three New Species of Mouse Lemurs (Mongabay, by Mike Gaworecki)
This year, scientists used genetic analysis to describe three new species of mouse lemurs that live in the South and East Madagascar: Microcebus boraha, Microcebus ganzhorni, and Microcebus manitatra. This brings the number of known mouse lemurs—the world's tiniest primates—to 24. All three mouse lemurs are small, nocturnal animals with brown fur and large eyes.
Microcebus ganzhorni is named in honor of the Hamburg ecologist Prof. Jörg Ganzhorn who has worked on ecology and conservation in Madagascar for more than thirty years.
Photo credit: G. Donati
5. Deepest Fish Species Discovered by Deep-Diving (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
At a depth of 150 meters in the West Pacific, off the coast of Batangas, Luzon, Philippine Islands, scientists have discovered a new species of strikingly colored fish that belongs to a group of fish called groppos. The fish was discovered without the use of submarines or other indirect methods, making it the deepest new fish discovery done by diving to date. The scientists have named the pink-and-yellow-hued fish Brianne's Groppo or Grammatonotus brianne.
Brianne's Groppo (Grammatonotus brianne).
Photo credit: Luiz Rocha
6. Silver Boa That Is “On Its Way to Extinction” (Mongabay, by Mike Gaworecki)
This new silver boa (Chilabothrus argentum) was found in a remote corner of the Bahamian Archipelago called the Conception Island Bank. It is a nonvenomous, constricting snake, and one of the most endangered boid snakes globally, a group that includes boa constrictors and anacondas. Scientists believe that it should be listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
The Bahamian silver boa or Conception Bank silver boa (Chilabothrus argentum).
Photo credit: Graham Reynolds / UNC-Ashville
7. Rabbit-Like Pika (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Discovered in the remote upper reaches of the Eastern Himalayas in Sikkim, India, the cuddly new rabbit-like animal, Sikkim pika (Ochotona sikimeria), was previously classified as a sub-species of the Moupin pika (Ochotona thibetana). But the two species are not even closely related, scientists say. The new species was identified by analyzing genetic data sampled from its poop, and comparing it with the DNA of other related pikas. The new species seems to be abundant in Sikkim and may not be immediately threatened by extinction.
The new species—named Sikkim pika or Ochotona sikimeria—was previously classified as a sub-species of the Moupin pika or Ochotona thibetana.
Photo credit: Prasenjeet Yadav
8. Caribbean Plants Named After James Bond (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Biologists discovered an entire new sub-group of plants in Central America and the Caribbean Islands that they have named Jamesbondia. The name does not honor the popular spy character James Bond. Instead, the group gets its name from notable American ornithologist James Bond (1900-1989), who was an expert in Caribbean birds and author of the book Birds of the West Indies. Ian Fleming—also a keen birdwatcher—is believed to have used the ornithologist's name for his fictional spy series.
A new subgenus of plants has officially been called Jamesbondia.
Photo credit: Taylor & Francis
9. Giant Air-Breathing Fish (National Geographic, by Brian Clark Howard)
A new species of a giant arapaima—massive fish that breathe through primitive lungs—may be lurking in the backwaters of the Amazon. National Geographic explorer Donald J. Stewart and his colleagues claim to have found genetic evidence of at least one new species of arapaima in southwestern Guyana. Stewart believes there may be more distinct species of arapaimas currently unknown to science. Arapaimas, which can grow up to 10 feet long and weight 440 pounds, are little-studied and highly endangered.
Scientists have found genetic evidence of at least one new species of arapaima in southwestern Guyana.
Photo credit: Jeff Kubina / Flickr
10. Tarantula That Shoots Balls of Barbed Hairs at Enemies (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
The new species of tarantula, Kankuamo marquezi, is a badass. Discovered in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria mountain range in Colombia, the tarantula subdues its enemies by shooting a ball of barbed hairs into the air that it releases by rubbing its hind legs against its belly vigorously. The hairs have sharp tips that can then penetrate into the enemy's skin or mucous membrane, causing irritation. The scientists have named the sspider, K. marquezi, after famous Colombian writer, Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature for "One hundred years of solitude."
The new tarantula stabs its butt's bristled hairs into its enemy directly instead of releasing a flying cloud of sharp hairs into the air as many other tarantulas do.
Photo credit: Dirk Weinmann
11. Two Species of Magnolia Discovered Online (BBC)
Thanks to photographs on Arkive, a website that hosts thousands of pictures of flora and fauna, two naturalists could identify two previously unrecorded species of Magnolia, one of Earth's oldest flowering plants. Roberto Pedraza Ruiz had photographed several plants within eastern Mexico's Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in 2010 and uploaded it to Arkive. After seeing the photos, biologist José Antonio Vázquez, living 200 miles away, identified two of the plants as new species of Magnolia. One of the species, Magnolia rzedowskiana, was named after Jerzy Rzedoswski, a Mexican botanist, while the second species will be named Magnolia pedrazae, in honor of its photographer.It was this image that first raised questions. It is now identified as a Magnolia rzedowskiana flower.
Photo credit: Roberto Pedraza Ruiz
12. New Scops Owl (Mongabay, by Mike Gaworecki)
Scientists have discovered a new species of Scops owl on Príncipe, one of the two major islands that make up the country of São Tomé and Príncipe in the Gulf of Guinea off the western coast of Central Africa. The owl had been long rumored to exist by researchers. But Belgian ornithologist Philippe Verbelen confirmed the presence of the owl during an expedition in the forests of Príncipe, during which he photographed at least two different individuals. The owl is yet to be formally described.
A photo of the previously undiscovered Scops owl (Otus) discovered in the forests of Príncipe Island (Gulf of Guinea).
Photo credit: Philippe Verbelen
13. Parasitic Orchid That Never Blooms (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
The new plant—named Gastrodia kuroshimensis—was discovered on the Japanese island of Kuroshima. It occurs in the dark understory of forests where little light penetrates. So instead of using sunlight or photosynthesis to generate nutrients, the plant parasitizes the fungi in the forest soil for its daily dose of nutrition. The new plant also produces dark greenish-brown flowers that remain closed throughout the entire flowering period, relying completely on self-pollination within closed buds.
Photo credit: Kenji Suetsugu
14. Spider That Looks like the ‘Sorting Hat’ from Harry Potter (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Gryffindor! The biologists who discovered this new spider in a forest in central Western Ghats, India, are big fans of the Harry Potter franchise. Surprised by how closely the spider resembles the magical sorting hat, they chose to name it Eriovixia gryffindori after the hat's owner Godric Gryffindor, one of the four founders of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The tiny spider is an excellent mimic, and is adept at resembling dried foliage.
Eriovixia gryffindor, a new species of spider was discovered in Karnataka. India.
Photo credit: Sumukha J. N.
15. Six New Deep-Sea Animals Discovered in Undersea Hot Springs (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Around hydrothermal vents in Longqi ('Dragon's Breath'), 1,242 miles southeast of Madagascar, a research team has discovered six new species of deep-sea animals that are nourished by hot fluids gushing out of the vent chimneys. The new species include a hairy-chested 'Hoff' crab, closely related to 'Hoff' crabs at Antarctic vents; two species of snail and a species of limpet, and two species of deep-sea worms.
A group of hairy-chested 'Hoff crabs'.
Photo credit: University of Southampton
16. Three New Miniature Salamanders Are Already Headed for Extinction (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Scientists have described three new species of miniature salamanders, occurring in the remote mountains of Oaxaca in Mexico, that are smaller than a matchstick. These tiny creatures belong to the elusive genus Thorius, members of which are the smallest four-legged animals on Earth. The group is also one of the most endangered genus of amphibians in the world, and the three newly discovered species are already on the verge of extinction, researchers say. The new salamanders have been named the pine-dwelling minute salamander (Thorius pinicola), the long-tailed minute salamander (Thorius longicaudus) and the heroic minute salamander (Thorius tlaxiacus).
A pine-dwelling minute salamander (Thorius pinicola)—one of the newly described species of minute salamander.
Photo credit: Mario García-París
17. Crab Discovered in Chinese Fish Market (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Colorful freshwater crabs are being increasingly traded in South China's pet markets. At one such ornamental fish market in northern Guandong, China, researchers collected a new species of maroon-brown crab with reddish-purple claws and legs, which belongs to both a new species and a new genus. The scientists have named the newly described crab Yuebeipotamon calciatile, its species name "calciatile" referring to the pools of limestone hill streams where the crabs are found.
Close-up of a male individual of the new crab species and genus Yuebeipotamon calciatile.
Photo credit: Hsi-Te Shih
18. New Millipede Has 414 legs, 4 Penises (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
Scientists have discovered a new species of a very "leggy" millipede inside a dark, marble cavern in Sequoia National Park, California. The tiny thread-like millipede has 414 legs, and is cousin to the 750-legged Illacme plenipes, the leggiest known millipede on earth, researchers say. It has some other odd features: its 20 millimeters-long body is covered in spines, tubercles, and silk-secreting hairs, and four of its legs are modified into penises or gonopods that it uses to transfer sperm into the female. Researchers have named the new species Illacme tobini after Ben Tobin, a cave specialist and hydrologist at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
The new species (Illacme tobini) of extremely leggy millipede from a Sequoia National Park cave.
Photo credit: Paul Marek / Virginia Tech
19. Smallest of Giant Flowers (Mongabay, by Shreya Dasgupta)
The parasitic plant, Rafflesia or corpse flower, produces the world's largest flowers. Now, on Luzon Island in the Phillipines, a team of scientists have discovered the smallest of these giant flowers. Some Rafflesia flowers can grow up to a meter and a half in diameter. But the newly discovered flower has an average diameter of 9.73 cm when fully expanded, making it a "dwarf" among all known Rafflesia species. The discovery was serendipitous — researchers tripped on the flower while walking in a forest on Luzon Island. Only two populations of R. consueloae are known from two mountain sites, Mt Balukbok and Mt Pantaburon, and the species may be Critically Endangered.
The newly described Rafflesia consueloae.
Photo credit: Edwino S. Fernando
20. One Bird That Became 13 (Motherboard, by Kaleigh Rogers)
For a long time, scientists believed that a single bird, the red bellied pitta (Pitta erythrogaster) that lives in the Philippines, was also found on a small island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, on Indonesia's Banggai and Sula Islands, and in Buru, Ambon and Seram in the south Moluccas. But a detailed genetic analysis and taxonomic review of the species revealed that the birds lumped under red-bellied pitta are actually 13 distinct species found around southeast Asia. This splitting of the species has important conservation implications, researchers say. The original red bellied pitta was classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. But a review of the population status of the new species shows that at least three are threatened and at risk of extinction.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
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