Heavy duty electric fish, healthy parasites and a fox-sized cat — what other surprises did wildlife give last year?
Fluffy Rats, Philippines
Soft brown fur and a fragile pointed muzzle — researchers found such cute creatures on Luzon, the largest Philippine island. To lure them out of the thickets, zoologists had to trick: instead of fried coconuts and peanut butter, they placed live earthworms in traps.
Earth-moving rats are the endemic of Luzon, they are found at an altitude of about 1,500 m in the mountains of Labo and Mingan, in whose honor two new species were named. Experts believe that animals descended from a common ancestor, but, being isolated high in the mountains, each group went on its own evolutionary path. Animals differ from their relatives in a long muzzle, a shorter tail and a shade of wool. They jump high on large hind legs, so they are compared with a kangaroo, and thanks to a short dense fur coat, rodents resemble plush toys. Jumping rats feed on insects and invertebrates, lay paths in the forest and patrol them around the clock, waiting for prey.
White-eye Bird, Indonesia
This does not happen every year — on the Wakatobi archipelago, ornithologists immediately discovered two new species of birds: the Wakatobi white-eye and the Wangi-Wangi white-eye. The latter are found only on a small island of the same name, and their closest relatives live 3,000 km. It is believed that the first species appeared 800,000 years ago, the second — even earlier. Their isolation was prevented by the isolated position of the islands and the greenish-yellow plumage, reliably hiding birds in the foliage. Rare birds are distant relatives of sparrows and tits. They easily adapt to new conditions and eat everything that gets into their beak: fruits, flowers, insects. Both species have a characteristic white ring around the eyes and differ in the color of feathers on the breast.
Scientists hope that this discovery will help protect a unique region with its incredible biodiversity, and the Wakatobi Islands will be recognized as a specially protected area, otherwise new creatures will disappear before they are found.
Fox cat, france
Corsican shepherds for many years passed the legends of the elusive predator by word of mouth, but only in 2019, wild cats with reddish fur and black tail tip were recognized by scientists as a new species. The first representative was caught by chance — in the chicken coop, and his brothers were lured with the help of scented wooden sticks. Cats rubbed about them, leaving hair on the surface — this was how they managed to get the first DNA samples. The analysis showed that “cat foxes” are genetically different from European wild cats and are close to an African forest cat.
Beginners are in many ways similar to ordinary house whales, but have larger sizes, powerful fangs, well-developed muscles and thick dense coat that protects them from fleas and ticks. There are only 16 cats in a small population in northern Corsica. They are very shy and careful, they disguise themselves perfectly, hide during the day, and hunt at night. Biologists suggest that the fox cat was brought to the island from the Middle East more than 8,000 years ago.
Electric eel, Brazil
860 volts — such a powerful discharge generates electric eel, found in the Amazon and its tributaries. This is the biggest tension that a living creature can create, and such an electric shock can stun a horse or kill a person. The record holder was named Electrophorus voltai in honor of Alessandro Volta — the founder of the doctrine of electricity. Previously, science knew only one type of electric eel, described more than 250 years ago. His brother up to 2.5 m in size all this time remained invisible.
Smithsonian Institute specialist David de Santana literally risked his life for the sake of science: collecting eels, he received electric shocks more than once — only their small force saved (up to 1 ampere). Studies have shown that the incredible power of stress is associated with the purity of the water in which the new species lives. Due to the small amount of salts dissolved in it, it conducts electricity poorly, so for a successful hunt the fish have to produce a stronger discharge.
Frogs without tadpoles, Ecuador
11 new species at once — such a large-scale discovery was made by biologists from Canada and Ecuador. On the slopes of the Andes, they found unique creatures — rain frogs. These amphibians lack the tadpole stage: they lay eggs on the ground, from which tiny frogs are hatched. The existence of rain frogs was known before, but their species were delimited only by external signs. This time, scientists approached the matter more thoroughly: they studied 750 samples, analyzed molecular, morphological and bioacoustic data, and conducted DNA studies. The biggest surprise was a multi-colored rain frog — the color of individuals of this species varies from bright yellow to dark brown, so zoologists were not able to immediately combine them into one group. All beginners need protection:
Baby Whale, Japan
Berardius minimus, or small swamplighter, the name sounds like a mockery, but it is well-deserved: this marine mammal grows only up to 6-7 m in length, almost twice as inferior to other beaked whales. In addition, previously unknown animals are distinguished by darker, almost black skin, a shorter beak and fins, a narrower body. They were found in the Sea of Okhotsk, off the coast of Hokkaido. Mysterious creatures live at great depths and dive well, so little has been studied. Biologists do not know what adult females of this species look like, many questions are connected with its distribution. Japanese whalers have long reported small black whales, which they call karasu («crow»), but it is still unclear to experts who it is: a small swimming pool or other unexplored species. Perhaps there is yet another discovery ahead.
Wood Lizards, Indochina
The Asian lizard now bears the name of a Russian scientist: in the summer of 2019, an international expedition discovered a new species of skinks in the forests of Indochina, which was named after the famous herpetologist Boris Vasiliev — Lipinia vassilievi. Secretive creatures are found only along the border of Vietnam and Cambodia and prey on small insects, merging with tree trunks or lurking in forest litter. Nearby, scientists found another member of the Skink family — a small lizard with three stripes on its head. Both open species flaunt brightly colored tips of the tails — with their help they communicate with each other. Scientists have yet to decipher the meaning of the signals exchanged between reptiles.
Wasp Parasites, Mexico
A group of scientists watched bugs ruthlessly destroying cabbage plantations in Mexico, and in the process unexpectedly discovered an effective means of combating these pests. Entomologists noticed that the larvae of the bugs were infected with eggs of unknown parasites, from which small hornet wasps later hatched. Representatives of the genus Idris usually choose spiders as their victims, and the new species for some reason switched to bedbugs: it either confused masonry, or it has universal abilities to parasitize on different insects. Os was named after the British actor Idris Elba — the stars of superhero films. Experts have high hopes for them in protecting the crop, because bedbugs brought from Africa to the USA and Mexico have no other natural enemies.
Clam Stoned, Philippines
American zoologists found an unusual bivalve mollusk on the Philippine island of Bohol: it drills passages in limestone rock and, possibly, feeds on it. His relatives have been known for a long time — shipworms spoiled many sea vessels and coastal buildings, because they digest wood with the help of symbiotic bacteria. But in the intestines of new animals, scientists did not find a tree, but crushed calcite. It is not yet clear how invertebrate came to such a life. According to one version, stones help him grind the main food: plankton or plant particles. Scientists have yet to answer the question of whether bacteria living in symbiosis with a clam can digest stone.
Strange creatures are found in the Ataban River: at the bottom found cobblestones, mottled by their holes. A small shell located in the front of the body helps them bite into the rock, and otherwise they resemble jelly-like worms from 5 mm to 10 cm long.
Alpine Butterflies, Kyrgyzstan
Exploring the high-altitude meadows of the Tien Shan, Russian entomologists discovered a new species of butterflies, which they named respectively — the Tien Shan eudiaphor. Due to the modest outfit and small size, it is not easy to notice it: translucent light gray wings reach a total of only 34 mm. Fragile creatures managed to adapt to harsh conditions — they flutter at an altitude of 1300-1400 m in extreme mountain ecosystems, which are considered analogues of the Arctic. The new species belongs to the large family of dipper butterflies, and finding it in the well-studied region of Central Asia is a great success for scientists. During the difficult 40-day expedition, another discovery was made: in the Pamirs, a subspecies of the ediosafor nozimjon was found, named after a resident of Tajikistan, Nozimjon Makhmudov, who helped researchers.
This is not all the discoveries of 2019. Most recently, the list was supplemented by tiny luminous shark, a colorless spider and a cardinal fish with cat eyes.