Every year an international committee of taxonomists for SUNY ESF’s International Institute for Species Exploration comes up with a list of the top ten new species discovered in the last year. For the first time, it has social media to thank for one of the discoveries.
It was a random posting on Facebook in Brazil of a carnivorous plant called a sundew. There are nearly 200 variations of the plant that secretes a thick mucus on its leaves, which traps insects. This particular plant, which at four feet high is taller than any others, wasn’t in any science books.
"Someone made the photograph, posted it on their page, and then a botanist, who knew enough about plants who knew enough to know that it didn’t look like anything they expected to see in that part of Brazil,” said SUNY ESF President Quentin Wheeler.
Wheeler says the challenge of documenting species is connecting a plant, animal or insect that may be well known in a particular culture, with a scientist who studies these kinds of things.
“Fewer than 20 percent of species are described, so you don’t have to go very far from where you’re standing to encounter an undescribed species.”
Documenting new species is important says Wheeler, because many species are going extinct at an alarming rate.
“Over the last 250 years we have discovered and named and described almost 2 million species. But we estimate there are another 10 million unknown to science. And so they’re going extinct at about the rate we are discovering and describing them. So we’d like to see that rate increase while there’s still time to make those discoveries.”
Also on this year’s list, a new kind of giant Galapagos tortoise, a bright red and pink sea dragon, and a tiny isopod that builds its own mud shelters. The complete 2016 list of top 10 news species can be found on the SUNY ESF website.