While 2021 may have been a stressful and, frankly, strange year, in the world of biodiversity there has been plenty to celebrate! Out of the many new species we published in our journals this year, we’ve curated a selection of the 10 most spectacular discoveries. The world hides amazing creatures just waiting to be found – and we’re making this happen, one new species at a time.
Read Part 1 of the Top 10 new species of 2021 here.
5. The Instagram model
Many students and young researchers are encouraged to explore biodiversity by starting from their own backyard. Yes, but how often do they find undescribed snake species in there?
This is exactly what happened to Virendar K. Bhardwaj, a master student in Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. Confined to his home in Chamba, India because of the COVID-19 lockdown, he started photographing any wildlife he came across and uploading it on his Instagram account. One of his images showed a beautiful kukri snake.
The picture immediately caught the attention of Zeeshan A. Mirza (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore) and Harshil Patel (Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat), who worked together with Virendar to describe it as a new species under the name Oligodon churahensis.
“It is quite interesting to see how an image on Instagram led to the discovery of such a pretty snake that, until very recently, remained hidden to the world,” Zeeshan A. Mirza told us earlier this month.
“What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species. Lately, people have been eager to travel to remote biodiversity hotspots to find new or rare species, but if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.”
Published in: Evolutionary Systematics
4. The tiny snail with an athletic name
Do freshwater snails make good tennis players? Well, one of them certainly has the name for it.
Enter Travunijana djokovici, a new species of aquatic snail named after famous Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic.
Found in a karstic spring near Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, T. Djokovici is part of the family of mud snails, which inhabit fresh or brackish water, including caves and subterranean habitats.
The tiny snail was discovered by Slovak biospeleologist Jozef Grego and Montenegrin zoologist Vladimir Pešić of the University of Montenegro, who claim they named it after the renowned tennis player “to acknowledge his inspiring enthusiasm and energy.”.
To discover some of the world’s rarest animals that inhabit the unique underground habitats of the Dinaric karst, to reach inaccessible cave and spring habitats and for the restless work during processing of the collected material, you need Novak’s energy and enthusiasm,” they add.
Amazingly, Novak Djokovic found out that he’s now a namesake to a tiny snail, and he even had a comment.
“I am honoured that a new species of snail was named after me because I am a big fan of nature and ecosystems and I appreciate all kinds of animals and plants,” he says in an Eurosport article. “I don’t know how symbolic this is, because throughout my career I always tried to be fast and then a snail was named after me,” he joked. “Maybe it’s a message for me, telling me to slow down a bit!”
Published in: Subterranean Biology
3. The Coronavirus caddisfly
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected all of us, and the scientific world is no exception. Fieldwork got postponed, museums remained closed, arranging meet-ups and travel became almost impossible.
Scientists used this as a drive and inspiration as they continued their hard work on new discoveries. Only this year, we published the descriptions of the beetle Trigonopterus corona, the wasp Allorhogas quarentenus, and, yes, the caddisfly Potamophylax coronavirus.
P. coronavirus was collected near a stream in the Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park in Kosovo by a team of scientists led by Professor Halil Ibrahimi of the University of Prishtina. After molecular and morphological analyses, it was described as a caddisfly species new to science. Its name will be an eternal memory of an extremely difficult period.
In a broader sense, the researchers also wish to bring attention to “another silent pandemic occurring on freshwater organisms in Kosovo’s rivers,” caused by the pollution and degradation of freshwater habitats, as well as the activity increasing in recent years of mismanaged hydropower plants. Particularly, the river basin of the Lumbardhi i Deçanit River, where the new species was discovered, has turned into a ‘battlefield’ for scientists and civil society on one side and the management of the hydropower plant operating on this river on the other.
P. coronavirus is part of the small insect order of Trichoptera, which is very sensitive to water pollution and habitat deterioration. The authors of the species argue that it is a small-scale endemic taxon, very sensitive to the ongoing activities in Lumbardhi i Deçanit river, and failure to understand this may drive it, along with many other species, towards extinction.
Published in: Biodiversity Data Journal
2. The cutest peacock spider ever
If you think spiders can’t be cute, you’ve probably never seen a peacock spider. They have big forward-facing eyes, and their males perform fun courtship dances.
Citizen scientist Sheryl Holliday was the first to spot this vibrant spider while walking in Mount Gambier, Australia, and she posted her find on Facebook. It was later described as a new species by arachnologist Joseph Schubert of Museums Victoria.
Coloured bright orange, it was called Maratus Nemo, after the popular Disney character.
‘It has a really vibrant orange face with white stripes on it, which kind of looks like a clown fish, so I thought Nemo would be a really suitable name for it,’ Joseph Schubert says.
Maratus Nemo is probably the first influencer arachnid – his curious story, bright colours and fun name practically made him an internet star overnight.
Published in: Evolutionary Systematics
1. The tiny ant that challenges gender stereotypes
Found in Ecuador’s evergreen tropical forests, this miniature trap jaw ant bears the curious Latin name Strumigenys ayersthey. Unlike most species named in honour of people, whose names end with -ae (after females) and –i (after males), S. ayersthey might be the only species in the world to have a scientific name with the suffix –they.
“In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinized portmanteau honoring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments, Strumigenys ayersthey,” authors Philipp Hoenle of the Technical University of
Darmstadt and Douglas Booher of Yale University state in their paper.
“Strumigenys ayersthey sp. nov. is thus inclusively named in honor of Jeremy Ayers for the multitude of humans among the spectrum of gender who have been unrepresented under traditional naming practices.”
Curiously, it was no other than lead singer and lyricist of the American alternative rock band R.E.M. Michael Stipe that joined Booher in writing the etymology section for the research article, where they explain the origin of the species name and honor their mutual friend, activist and artist Jeremy Ayers.
This ant can be distinguished by its predominantly smooth and shining cuticle surface and long trap-jaw mandibles, which make it unique among nearly a thousand species of its genus.
“Such a beautiful and rare animal was just the species to celebrate both biological and human diversity,” Douglas Booher said.
Published in: ZooKeys