A year of rediscovered species
When reading the latest news about the world’s animals, plants and other species, it often seems that everything has gotten pretty dreary: The western black rhino was declared officially extinct this year. Poaching may soon drive local elephant populations out of existence in Africa. And those are just the extinctions we notice — scientists estimate that 150 to 200 species go extinct every 24 hours.
But nature still holds surprises for us, and not everything that looks like it has disappeared is truly gone forever. Compared to extinctions, rediscoveries are rare — and they don’t mean that the species won’t soon face oblivion — but they always put a smile on my face. Here are eight that resurfaced in 2013:
Mangarahara cichlid (Ptychochromis insolitus): Until recently, there were only two known individuals of this Madagascan fish, both males living in the ZSL London Zoo’s Aquarium. They were believed to be extinct in the wild, victims of deforestation and habitat loss as rivers were diverted to make way for agricultural fields. But an expedition earlier this year found a small population of the fish in a tiny village located on a now-disconnected tributary of the Mangarahara River.
Hula painted frog (Latonia nigriventer): No one had seen these frogs from the Hula Valley of Israel since 1955, but in the last two years, scientists have found 11 of the amphibians in that valley’s wetlands. An analysis of the frogs’ physical features and DNA revealed that it had been misclassified back in the 1940s when it was first discovered. Instead of belonging to the Discoglossus genus, the Hula painted frog is actually the last surviving member of Latonia, the researchers reported June 4 in Nature Communications (SN: 6/29/13, p. 19).
Pinocchio anole (Anolis proboscis): The long-nosed lizard from Ecuador was first found in 1953, when scientists captured nine specimens of the anole, all male. Over the next few years, a handful of the lizards were spotted. But then there were no sightings for 40 years, until a group of bird-watchers spotted an odd-looking lizard near the town of Mindo. Expeditions to find the lizards discovered that they weren’t all that hard to spot, as long as you searched at night. The anoles sleep on the end of branches and turn pale white at night, making them easy to glimpse when someone shines a light on them.
Hochstetter’s butterfly-orchid (Platanthera azorica): An investigation of Platanthera butterfly-orchids in the Azores revealed that this orchid species existed and deserved its own name. Only later did scientists discover that specimens of the plant had actually been collected back in 1838, though scientists hadn’t named it at that time. It was overlooked for so long because it’s incredibly rare, and it may be Europe’s rarest orchid, said scientists in a study published December 10 in PeerJ.
Bone-skipper fly (Centrophlebomyia anthropophaga): This corpse-eating fly species was first described in 1830, but that initial entry was based solely on the memory of flies a scientist had seen destroying human specimens at the Paris School of Medicine. The species was again spotted, for the first time in a century, in Italy at a “vulture restaurant” in which dead and dismembered sheep are left for griffon vultures, researchers reported in the June 17 Zookeys.
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Passion flower (Passiflora kwangtungensis): This plant, characterized by clusters of white flowers and small, round fruits, disappeared rapidly from Guangxi, Guangdong and Jiangxi Provinces in China during the 1970s and 1980s, likely driven out of its habitat by deforestation. After 14 years in which no specimens were found, researchers rediscovered the plant in Hunan Province, they reported June 12 in PhytoKeys. But with only 14 plants found in three years of searching, they recommended classifying the species as Critically Endangered.
White-strip crab (Labuanium vitatum): A leader of a photo safari photographed this spectacular purple-clawed crab on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean in May, the first time there had been a documented sighting since 1989. (Ex-chief ranger of Christmas Island National Park, Max Orchard, says he had a fleeting glimpse of one in 2010.) The crab has proved rare and hard-to-find for the last century, but there have been concerns for the last few years that the crustacean could have been a victim of the yellow crazy ant invasion on the island.
Crambione cookii jellyfish: Generally, finding a lethal jellyfish isn’t a good thing. But when it’s the first spotting since 1910, well, that’s another story. This 50-centimeter-long pink species was found off the coast of Queensland, Australia, in November. But don’t worry about coming across it when swimming in those waters — the jellyfish now lives in an aquarium.