Lazy predator: A new species of mountain pit viper from China

Ovophis jenkinsi is dark brownish-grey, with trapezoidal patches on its back. It is endemic to China’s Yingjiang County and is not difficult to find in the wild.

Yunnan, China is a biodiversity hotspot, with many new reptile species discovered in the region in recent years. It is also where a research team from China found a new species of medium-sized venomous snake, known as a mountain pit viper.

Ovophis jenkinsi. Photo by Xianchun Qiu

“We checked specimens of the [snake] genus Ovophis collected by Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Beijing Forestry University in Yingjiang, Yunnan in 2008, and found that these specimens were different from all known similar species. We collected some new specimens from Yingjiang in 2023 and finally determined that this population represents a new species!” the researchers explained.

The new species was named Ovophis jenkinsi in honour of herpetologist Robert “Hank” William Garfield Jenkins AM (September 1947−September 2023), who had “a passion for snakes, especially pit vipers, and helped China, along with many Asian countries, complete snake census, conservation, and management projects,” the team writes in their study, which was published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

A specimen of Ovophis jenkinsi from Yingjiang, Yunnan, China. Photo by Xianchun Qiu

Ovophis jenkinsi is generally dark brownish-grey, but some individuals can be deep orange-brown, and has trapezoidal patches on its back. “It is usually slow-moving but shows great aggression when disturbed,” the researchers explain after observing the snake’s behaviour. “When threatened, these snakes inflate their bodies to make themselves appear larger and strike quickly.”

There are no records to date of humans being bitten by this species.

The only known habitat of Ovophis jenkinsi, the tropical montane rainforest in Yingjiang, Yunnan, China. Photo by Xiaojun Gu

Like many other species, this snake is endemic to China’s Yingjiang County, which means it is currently found only there. “It is not difficult to find this species in the wild, they are active mainly in the autumn and prefer cool, humid, and even rainy nights, probably to avoid competition with other snakes,” the researchers say, suggesting it might feed on small mammals.

“We will be collecting more information about O. jenkinsi in the future, including their appearance, distribution, and habits, to improve our understanding of this species,” the researchers say in conclusion.

Research article:

Qiu X-C, Wang J-Z, Xia Z-Y, Jiang Z-W, Zeng Y, Wang N, Li P-P, Shi J-S (2024) A new mountain pitviper of the genus Ovophis Burger in Hoge & Romano-Hoge, 1981 (Serpentes, Viperidae) from Yunnan, China. ZooKeys 1203: 173-187. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1203.119218


Sun-shunning thief: new plant species robs underground fungi to survive

Tiny and highly specialised, Thismia malayana belongs to a group of plants known as mycoheterotrophs.

Researchers in Malaysia have discovered a tiny and distinctive plant that steals its nutrients from underground fungi.

Published as a new species in the open-access journal PhytoKeys, Thismia malayana belongs to a group of plants known as mycoheterotrophs. Unlike most plants, mycoheterotrophs do not perform photosynthesis. Instead, they act as a parasite, stealing carbon resources from the fungi on their roots.

Unusual brown and orange plant in leaf litter.
Thismia malayana live specimen.

The 2 cm-long plant’s unusual adaptation takes advantage of the mycorrhizal symbiosis, which is usually a mutually beneficial relationship between colonising fungi and a plant’s root system.

Several scientific photographs of an unusual brown and orange plant.
Thismia malayana.

By stealing nutrients from fungi, it can thrive in the low-light conditions of dense forest understories where its highly specialised flowers are pollinated by fungus gnats and other small insects.

A team of botanists from the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) collaborated with local naturalists and stakeholders to make the discovery in the tropical rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. It was there they found the miniscule species hidden amongst leaf litter and growing near tree roots and old rotten logs.

The research team identified Thismia malayana in two locations: the lowlands of Gunung Angsi Forest Reserve in Negeri Sembilan and the hilly dipterocarp forests of Gunung Benom in the Tengku Hassanal Wildlife Reserve, Pahang.

Unusual brown and orange plant with a scale showing it measures around 2 cm long.
Thismia malayana with scales (the finest grade is 0.5 mm).

Despite its small size, Thismia malayana is very sensitive to environmental changes and has been classified as Vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List criteria. Its limited distribution and the potential threat from trampling due to its proximity to hiking trails underscore the importance of continued conservation efforts.

Original source

Siti-Munirah MY, Hardy-Adrian C, Mohamad-Shafiq S, Irwan-Syah Z, Hamidi AH (2024) Thismia malayana (Thismiaceae), a new mycoheterotrophic species from Peninsular Malaysia. PhytoKeys 242: 229-239. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.242.120967

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Captivating blue-colored ant discovered in India’s remote Siang Valley

It was named Paraparatrechina neela, after the word “neela”, which means blue in various Indian languages.

Nothing like the common red, black, or brown ants, a stunning blue ant has been discovered from Yingku village in Arunachal Pradesh, northeastern India. This new species belongs to the rare genus Paraparatrechina and has been named Paraparatrechina neela. The word “neela” signifies the color blue in most Indian languages – a fitting tribute to the ant’s unique coloration.

Entomologists Dr. Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan and Sahanashree R, from Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in Bengaluru, along with Aswaj Punnath from the University of Florida, collaborated to describe the remarkable new species. Their scientific description of the ant is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Paraparatrechina neela. Photo by Sahanashree R

“While exploring a tree hole about 10 feet up in a steep cattle track in the remote Yinku village one evening, something sparkled in the twilight. With the dim light available, two insects were sucked into an aspirator. To our surprise, we later found they were ants” said the researchers.

The ant was found during an expedition to Siang valley in Arunachal Pradesh to resurvey its biodiversity after the century-old ‘Abhor expedition’. The original Abor expedition from the period of colonial rule in India was a punitive military expedition against the indigenous people there in 1911-1912. A scientific team also accompanied the military expedition, to document the natural history and geography of the Siang Valley. Тhis expedition encountered several challenges, including hostile terrain, difficult weather conditions, and resistance from local tribes. Despite the challenges, it managed to explore and map large parts of the Siang Valley region, cataloguing every plant, frog, lizard, fish, bird & mammal and insects they found, with the discoveries published in several volumes from 1912 to 1922 in the Records of the Indian Museum.

A view of Suabg Valley. Photo by Ranjith AP

Now, a century later, a team of researchers  from ATREE and a documentation team from Felis Creations Bangalore have embarked on a series of expeditions under the banner “Siang Expedition”, to resurvey and document the biodiver­sity of the region. This expedition was funded by the National Geographic Society through the wild­life-conservation expedition grant.

“Nestled within a Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, Arunachal Pradesh’s Siang Valley presents a world of unparalleled diversity, much of it yet to be explored. However, this very richness, both cultural and ecological, faces unprecedented threats. Large-scale infrastructure projects like dams, highways, and military installations, along with climate change, are rapidly altering the valley. The impact extends beyond the valley itself, as these mountains play a critical role not only in sustaining their own diverse ecosystems but also in ensuring the well-being of millions of people living downstream”, said Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan, corresponding author of the paper.

Paraparatrechina neela is a small ant with a total length of less than 2mm. Its body is predominantly metallic blue, except for the antennae, mandibles, and legs. The head is subtriangular with large eyes, and has a triangular mouthpart (mandible) featuring five teeth. This species has a distinct metallic blue colour that is different from any other species in its genus.

Paraparatrechina neela. Photo by Sahanashree R

Blue is relatively rare in the animal kingdom. Various groups of vertebrates, including fish, frogs, and birds, as well as invertebrates such as spiders and flies and wasps, showcase blue coloration. In insects, it is often produced by the arrangement of biological photonic nanostructures, which create structural colours rather than being caused by pigments. While blue coloration is commonly observed in some insects like butterflies, beetles, bees, and wasps, it is relatively rare in ants. Out of the 16,724 known species and subspecies of ants worldwide, only a few exhibit blue coloration or iridescence.

The discovery of Paraparatrechina neela contributes to the richness of ant diversity and represents the unique biodiversity of the Eastern Himalayas, and its blue coloration raises intriguing questions. Does it help in communication, camouflage, or other ecological interactions? Delving into the evolution of this conspicuous coloration and its connections to elevation and the biology of Paraparatrechina neela presents an exciting avenue for research.

Research article:
Sahanashree R, Punnath A, Rajan Priyadarsanan D (2024) A remarkable new species of Paraparatrechina Donisthorpe (1947) (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Formicinae) from the Eastern Himalayas, India. ZooKeys 1203: 159-172. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1203.114168

Snake in a ski mask: a striking new species from the Arabian Peninsula

The stylish serpent is dubbed “the missing piece of the puzzle” as it fills a large distribution gap for its genus.

Researchers have discovered a new distinctive and secretive snake species in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia.

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus is a small snake bearing a black collar and reddish colouration. A completely black variation of of the species known as a ‘melanistic morphotype’ was also discovered.

A black snake on stony ground.
Melanistic morphotype of Rhynchocalamus hejazicus.

The snake’s genus Rhynchocalamus previously had a large distribution gap, stretching between the Levant and coastal regions of Yemen and Oman. However, the new species is widely distributed between these areas, prompting the research team to dub it “the missing piece of the puzzle.”

Distribution map of the new species showing the location of the material examined in this study. Various areas in western Saudi Arabia are marked.
Distribution of Rhynchocalamus hejazicus, showing the location of the material examined in the study.

The international team led by scientists from the Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos (CIBIO), Portugal, and Charles University, Czech Republic, published their discovery in Zoosystematics and Evolution, an open-access journal published by Pensoft on behalf of Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus inhabits sandy and stony soils with varying vegetation cover and is found in habitats disturbed by humans, suggesting the species should not be categorised as threatened according to IUCN criteria.

Three images of habitats. The first is a barren desert landscape with sparse trees and rocks scattered throughout. The second is a dry desert scene featuring a small number of trees and rocks. The third is an arid landscape with a handful of trees and rocks in view.
Habitats of the holotype and two paratype specimens of R. hejazicus.

The species’ natural history and behaviour remain unclear, and further monitoring and conservation efforts are necessary to better understand its ecological dynamics. However, it appears that Rhynchocalamus hejazicus is predominantly nocturnal as all encountered individuals were active at night.

“The discovery of a new species of snake widespread in the central-western regions of Saudi Arabia is surprising and gives rise to the hope that more undiscovered species might be present in the Kingdom,” the authors say.

Orange snake with black collar and nose colouration on sandy ground.
Rhynchocalamus hejazicus.

Most observations of the new species are the result of intense sampling efforts in a vast area around the ancient Arabic oasis city of AlUla, fostered by the Royal Commission for AlUla, Saudi Arabia, which is pushing forward scientific activities and explorations to promote conservation in the region. Recent research in Saudi Arabia has led to fruitful collaborations and findings like this study, to which many experts from multiple teams contributed significantly.

The discovery of such a distinctive snake highlights the existing gap in knowledge of rare and secretive species, and the need to enhance sampling efforts and monitoring strategies to fully capture species diversity in unexplored areas.

Original source

Licata F, Pola L, Šmíd J, Ibrahim AA, Liz AV, Santos B, Patkó L, Abdulkareem A, Gonçalves DV, AlShammari AM, Busais S, Egan DM, Ramalho RMO, Smithson J, Brito JC (2024) The missing piece of the puzzle: A new and widespread species of the genus Rhynchocalamus Günther, 1864 (Squamata, Colubridae) from the Arabian Peninsula. Zoosystematics and Evolution 100(2): 691-704. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.100.123441

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Leptanilla voldemort, a ghostly slender new ant species from the dark depths of the underground

Its name pays homage to the dark wizard Lord Voldemort, the fearsome antagonist of the Harry Potter series, drawing parallels with the ant’s ghostly appearance.

In the sun-scorched Pilbara region of north-western Australia, scientists have unearthed a mysterious creature from the shadows – a new ant species of the elusive genus Leptanilla.

The new species, Leptanilla voldemort – L. voldemort for short – is a pale ant with a slender build, spindly legs, and long, sharp mandibles. The species name pays homage to the dark wizard Lord Voldemort, the fearsome antagonist of the Harry Potter series, drawing parallels with the ant’s ghostly and slender appearance, and the dark underground environment, from which it has emerged.

Scientists Dr Mark Wong of the University of Western Australia and Jane McRae of Bennelongia Environmental Consultants describe the enigmatic new species in a paper published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Leptanilla voldemort was discovered during an ecological survey to document animals living belowground in the arid Pilbara region of north-western Australia. Only two specimens of the bizarre new ant species were found. Both were collected in a net that was lowered down a 25-metre drill hole and skilfully retrieved while scraping against the hole’s inner surface – an innovative technique for collecting underground organisms known as ‘subterranean scraping’.

A general landscape of the Pilbara region.

Compared to other Leptanilla antspecies, L. voldemort has an extremely slender body as well as long, spindly antennae and legs. Together with its collection from a 25-metre-deep drill hole, this unusual morphologyhas left experts speculating as to whether it truly dwells in soil like other Leptanilla species, or exploits a different subterranean refuge, such as the air-filled voids and cracks that form within layers of rock deeper underground.

Leptanilla voldemort.

The long, sharp jaws of L. voldemort, however, leave little to the imagination.

Leptanilla voldemort is almost surely a predator, a fearsome hunter in the dark. This is backed up by what we know from the few observations of specialised hunting behaviours in other Leptanilla antspecies, where the tiny workers use their sharp jaws and powerful stings to immobilise soil-dwelling centipedes much larger than them, before carrying their larvae over to feed on the carcass” said Dr Wong, lead author of the study.

A full-face view of Leptanilla voldemort, showing its sharp mandibles.

The exact prey of L. voldemort, however, is not known, though a variety of other subterranean invertebrates, including centipedes, beetles and flies, were collected from the same locality.

There are over 14,000 species of ants worldwide, but only about 60 belong to the enigmatic genus Leptanilla. Unlike most ants, all species of Leptanilla are hypogaeic – their small colonies, usually comprising a queen and only a hundred or so workers, nest and forage exclusively underground. To adapt to life in darkness, Leptanilla workers are blind and colourless. The lilliputian members of the ant world, these ants measure just 1 to 2 millimetres – not much larger than a grain of sand – allowing them to move effortlessly through the soil. Due to their miniscule size, pale colouration, and unique underground dwellings, finding Leptanilla species is a challenge even for expert ant scientists, and much of their biology remains shrouded in mystery.

While Australia boasts some of the highest levels of ant diversity in the world – with estimates ranging from 1,300 to over 5,000 species – L. voldemort is only the second Leptanilla species discovered from the continent. The first, Leptanilla swani, was described nearly a century ago – from a small colony found under a rock in 1931 – and has almost never been seen since.

With its formation beginning approximately 3.6 billion years ago, the Pilbara is one of the oldest land surfaces on Earth. Despite the scorching summers and meagre rainfall, the region harbours globally important radiations of underground invertebrates. Adding to the unique biodiversity of this ancient landscape, the discovery of the enigmatic ant L. voldemort is a testament to the wizardry of nature and the mysteries of life in the depths of darkness.

Research article:

Wong MKL, McRae JM (2024) Leptanilla voldemort sp. nov., a gracile new species of the hypogaeic ant genus Leptanilla (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) from the Pilbara, with a key to Australian Leptanilla. ZooKeys 1197: 171-182. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1197.114072

NOAA Fisheries Zoologist Describes New Fish Species

Dr. Katherine Bemis of the National Systematics Laboratory recently helped describe a new species of fish, the papillated redbait.

New species alert! Dr. Katherine Bemis of NOAA Fisheries’ National Systematics Laboratory and her collaborators recently described a new fish species: Emmelichthys papillatus, or the papillated redbait. Its discovery was published in the journal ZooKeys.

Emmelichthys papillatus. Photograph by the Kagoshima University Museum

The papillated redbait is a member of the family Emmelichthyidae. There are only 18 known species in this family, which are commonly called redbaits, rovers, or rubyfishes. These deepwater species can be found in warm, tropical waters and are usually bright shades of red, orange, and pink.

How did Bemis and her team make this remarkable discovery? To find out, we’ll have to first travel to a fish market in the Philippines.

A molecular mystery

As part of an interagency campaign to create a reference library of fish DNA “barcodes,” Bemis and her colleagues regularly travel abroad to collect fish specimens. Some come from seafood markets overseas where they are being sold for food. In the field, these new specimens are assigned a preliminary species identification. Then, they’re transported to the Smithsonian Institution and National Systematics Laboratory for genetic sequencing, data collection, and a secondary species confirmation.

Dr. Katherine Bemis holds the holotype–the specimen upon which a new species’ description is based–of the papillated redbait. Credit: Haley Randall/NOAA Fisheries

Since getting involved with this project in 2021, Bemis and teammate Dr. Matthew Girard of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History have analyzed thousands of samples. None have made a bigger splash, though, than two small pink fish collected from a Philippine fish market on the island of Cebu.

While collecting data from these specimens, Girard made an exciting observation. Their genetic sequences did not match their initial species identification as golden redbaits—or any other species in the genetic library, for that matter. So which species did Girard and Bemis have on their hands?

Dr. Matthew Girard examines the holotype of the papillated redbait under a microscope. Credit: Dr. Katherine Bemis. Source NOAA Fisheries

In search of answers, Bemis and Girard examined other aspects of the specimens’ biology, including their anatomy. They discovered that these fish differed from the golden redbait in several ways, including:

  • A different number of gill rakers, structures inside the mouth that help fish to feed
  • A different number of pectoral fin rays
  • Two fleshy structures called papillae on the pectoral girdle

These differences, combined with the genetic data, provided evidence that the two specimens were not golden redbaits, but a previously undiscovered species. With only two confirmed specimens, Bemis and Girard wondered if other individuals could be identified in global natural history collections.

Underneath the gill cover, you can observe the two characteristic papillae (singular: papilla) of the papillated redbait labeled with arrows (left). The closely-related golden redbait lacks papillae in the same area (right). Photos courtesy of Dr. Matthew Girard. Source NOAA Fisheries

After some detective work, Bemis and Girard spotted a third specimen they hypothesized might also be the undescribed species. A fish with similar color also identified as a golden redbait had been collected from a fish market in the Philippines by the Kagoshima University Museum in Japan. Bemis and Girard studied the specimen and confirmed their hypothesis with genetic and anatomical data. This specimen became the third record of papillated redbait and, ultimately, the holotype for the species—the specimen upon which a new species description is based.

More to discover

Even after describing new species, there’s always more to learn. Bemis and Girard are energized that there is still much to discover about the papillated redbait and the redbait family, which is relatively poorly known. Any opportunity to add to this small body of knowledge and study redbait species in greater detail is valuable. “I’ve had researchers that work on fish taxonomy say to me, ‘I didn’t even know this family existed.’ That’s how little we know about this group,” Girard emphasizes.

Bemis also notes that because data on the papillated redbait comes from only three specimens purchased in fish markets, she still has lots of questions. For example, Bemis says that they don’t yet know if the new species occurs outside Philippine waters, or the exact habitat in which they occur. “We also don’t know anything about their reproduction or what they eat—really basic aspects of their biology remain to be studied. Now that we recognize that it is different, we only have more to study as new specimens of papillated redbait are collected,” Bemis says.

“It is always a happy and productive moment working with U.S. scientists,” says Dr. Mudjekeewis “Mudjie” Santos of the Philippine National Fisheries Research and Development Institute. Santos was instrumental in the collection of specimens, providing fisheries data on the papillated redbait, and coining a name for the new species in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. Here, he examines fish in a Philippine market. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mudjekeewis Santos. Source NOAA Fisheries

One thing is for certain, though. There are more species just waiting to be discovered, and they might be right under our noses. “I think the craziest thing is that the papillated redbait is a new species that came from a market,” Girard says. “The fact that there are undescribed species being sold without us even realizing it underscores how much we still have to learn about marine biodiversity.”

Research article:

Girard MG, Santos MD, Bemis KE (2024) New species of redbait from the Philippines (Teleostei, Emmelichthyidae, Emmelichthys). ZooKeys 1196: 95-109. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1196.111161

This story was originally published by NOAA Fisheries. It is republished here with their permission.

Rare bee species discovery links the French Alps to Turkey and Iraq

The new species has a narrow ecological niche, making it vulnerable to climate change and agricultural practices.

European researchers have discovered a new species of osmiine bee with an unusual geographic distribution.

Hoplitis onosmaevae is currently found exclusively in the Mercantour National Park in the French Alps and disparate mountainous regions in Turkey and Northern Iraq. The distance of more than 2000 km between these areas highlights a significant biogeographic disjunction.

New bee species distribution.
Distribution map of Hoplitis onosmaevae.

Described in the open-access journal Alpine Entomology, the new bee species demonstrates unique ecological characteristics such as its distinct nesting behaviour in dead wood.

Presumed to only harvest pollen from Onosma species, it has a long proboscis, which is likely an adaptation to collect nectar from the long-tubed flowers of this genus.

New bee species.
Male Hoplitis onosmaevae with unfolded proboscis.

The strongly disjunct distribution of Hoplitis onosmaevae has important implications for conservation. The species likely has a very narrow ecological niche, making it highly susceptible to future changes in its habitats, for example due to changes in agricultural practices or to climate change.

New bee species habitat.
Nesting habitat in the Alps, with dead trunks of larch.
New bee species in flower.
Female Hoplitis onosmaevae in a flower of Onosma tricerosperma.

“The consideration of the few known populations of this species in France is very important in the conservation field,” says lead author Matthieu Aubert, freelance entomologist and member of the Observatoire des Abeilles association.

“This study highlights the incredible diversity of wild bees and that we still have a lot to learn from our environment, even in western Europe,” he continues.

The researchers emphasise the need for detailed conservation plans in the southwestern Alps to ensure the survival of Hoplitis onosmaevae, considering its highly specialised ecological niche and consequently its vulnerability to habitat changes. Their proposals for initial conservation steps can be found in the full research paper.

Research paper

Aubert M, Müller A, Praz C (2024) A new osmiine bee with a spectacular geographic disjunction: Hoplitis (Hoplitis) onosmaevae sp. nov. (Hymenoptera, Anthophila, Megachilidae). Alpine Entomology 8: 65-79. https://doi.org/10.3897/alpento.8.118039

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Celebrating taxonomic discoveries: Top 10 new species of 2023

Get to know the most exciting new species published in Pensoft journals last year.

In 2023, the world of biodiversity saw some amazing discoveries . Our taxonomy journals published hundreds of new species, so selecting a Top Ten was tough, but here we go – get to know these beautiful new species, and maybe think about all the amazing diversity that still remains unexplored on our planet.

10. The walking leaf

It’s very often that undescribed species hide in plain sight for years, but it’s easy to understand why when they look like that! Leaf insects look confusingly similar to leaves – this sophisticated camouflage provides excellent protection from predators, but also presents a challenge to researchers.

“There are around 3,500 known species of stick and leaf insects and there are currently just over 100 described species of leaf insect,” researcher Dr Sven Bradler says. This is why when Phyllium ortizi and six other leaf insect species were found, it made for a really special discovery.

Lime-green in colour, Phyllium ortizi is so far only known from Mindanao Island, Philippines.

Published in ZooKeys.

9. The spiky hedgehog

The Eastern Forest Hedgehog (Mesechinus orientalis) was discovered in southwestern China. It is a small-bodied hedgehog, smaller than most of the other species in its genus, its spines as short as 1.8-2 cm. It has a brown nose, with black whiskers that shorten towards the nose.

The species is currently known from southern Anhui and northwestern Zhejiang, where it lives in scrubland and subtropical broad-leaf evergreen forests at elevations from 30 to 700 m.

The researchers found out that genus Mesechinus, to which the new species belongs, dates back to the early Pleistocene and started appearing around 1.71 million years ago, while M. Orientalis diverged from its congeners some 1.1 million years ago.

Published in ZooKeys.

8. The bumpy salamander

Tylototriton zaimeng was found in the eponymous Zaimeng lake in Manipur, India. It is a medium-sized salamander has a massive wide head that could take up as much as a quarter of its total length. Its most distinctive feature are the knob-like warts along its body.

The salamander has an earthy-brown body with orange markings along its head and orange-brown warts down its back and sides. Its tail fades from brown at the base to yellow-orange at the tip.

Even though it has just been discovered as a species for science, locals know a lot about it and have different names for it.

Because its known range is limited and threatened by deforestation and human interference, the species should be considered vulnerable.

Published in Herpetozoa.

7. The “groins of fire” frog

An unexpected discovery, this new treefrog species was found in the Amazon lowlands of central Peru. The research team, led by Germán Chávez, was surprised that a new species could be hiding in plain sight in an otherwise well-explored part of the Amazon. No matter how many times they returned to the site, they only found two specimens, which made its scientific description challenging.

Its name, Scinax pyroinguinis, literally means “groins of fire”. It is a reference to the orange, flame-like pattern on the groins, thighs and shanks, but also to the wildfires in the area where it was found, which are a serious threat to its habitat.

Published in Evolutionary Systematics.

6. The charming carnivore

Pinguicula ombrophila is part of the butterwort family, a group of insectivorous flowering plants consisting of around 115 species. Its leaves have a sticky texture, enabling it to capture and digest small insects.

For carnivorous plants, insects can be an additional source of nutrients to help them compensate the nutrient deficiency of the substrate they’re growing in. This gives them a competitive advantage over other plants and enables them to thrive in challenging habitats.

While the majority of butterworts are found in the northern hemisphere, this species was discovered in the elevated regions of southern Ecuador, near the Peru border. The research team found it on a nearly vertical rock face at 2,900 metres. Its name means “rain-loving butterwort”, highlighting the plant’s preference for very wet conditions.

Published in PhytoKeys.

5. The unicorn fish

Sinocyclocheilus longicornus (from the Latin words “longus”, meaning long, and “cornu”, meaning horn) comes from Southern China. It is only known from a dark vertical cave at an elevation of 2,276 m in the province of Guizhou. It is around 10-15 centimeters long and lacks pigmentation in its scales, which gives it it a ghostly whitish appearance. Since its eyes are small and probably not much help in a completely dark environment, it relies on barbels that look like tiny whiskers to feel its way around.

The researchers that found it are not quite sure what its “horn” is used for, but it might have something to do with navigating its way in the dark and dreary environment it inhabits.

Sinocyclocheilus longicornus is also featured in the SHOALS report on freshwater fish species described in 2023.

Published in ZooKeys.

4. The DiCaprio snake

snake

Sibon irmelindicaprioae was described as a new species together with four more tree-dwelling snake species from jungles of Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama. They all belong to Dipsadinae —a subfamily of snakes found in North and South America.

Also known as DiCaprio’s snail-eating snake, this species was named after actor and film producer Leonardo DiCaprio’s mother, Irmelin DiCaprio. The actor himself chose the name to honour his mother and raise awareness about the threats these snakes face.

Its habitat in Panama is affected by large-scale copper mining. The open-pit mines, some of them visible from space, make the areas uninhabitable for snail-eating snakes.

“These new species of snake are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of new species discoveries in this region, but if illegal mining continues at this rate, there may not be an opportunity to make any future discoveries,” says Alejandro Arteaga, who led the study to describe them.

Published in ZooKeys.

3. The Tolkien frog

Frog

You probably guessed it by now – this stream frog from the Ecuadorian Andes was named after J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

At about 66 millimeters (2.5 inches) long, Hyloscirtus tolkieni is tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but that doesn’t stop it from being simply stunning. With pale pink eyes and gold-speckled toes, it looks like it came straight out of Middle-earth. It was found at an elevation of 3190 meters in Río Negro-Sopladora National Park, a protected area of páramo and cloud forests.

The new species of frog has amazing colours, and it would seem that it lives in a universe of fantasies, like those created by Tolkien. The truth is that the tropical Andes are magical ecosystems where some of the most wonderful species of flora, funga, and fauna in the world are present. Unfortunately, few areas are well protected from the negative impacts caused by humans. Deforestation, unsustainable agricultural expansion, mining, invasive species, and climate changes are seriously affecting Andean biodiversity”, said Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia, one of the researchers behind this discovery.

Published in ZooKeys.

2. The enigmatic Nautilus

2023 was a great year for nautilus biodiversity: three species were described as new to science, including Nautilus samoaensis, which you see here. Like its name tells you, it was found off the coast of American Samoa.

Studying nautilus diversity is no easy feat – with setting spiky traps, hauling them over on board, and, eventually, burping nautiluses, it is surely a memorable experience.

Judging by the fossil record, nautiloids were once quite plentiful throughout the oceans. Today, however, they are represented by just a handful of species.

In addition, these fragile animals remain threatened by wildlife trade as they are hunted for their shells, which according to Mongabay can sell for up to about $1,000 each on the black market.

This beautiful species was also featured in the World Register of Marine Speciesselection of the top 10 marine species published in 2023, along with another ZooKeys species.

Published in ZooKeys.

1. The electric blue tarantula

Found in Thailand’s Phang-Nga province, Chilobrachys natanicharum features an enchanting phenomenon: a neon blue-purple coloration that gives it a unique look.

There is no blue pigment in this tarantula’s body: the secret behind its striking color comes from the unique structure of its hair, which incorporates nanostructures that manipulate light in an effect that creates the blue appearance. Depending on the light, it can also appear violet.

Before it was described as a new species, Chilobrachys natanicharum was actually known to experts from the commercial tarantula trade market as “Chilobrachys sp. Electric Blue Tarantula,” but this is the first time that it’s discovered in its natural habitat.

Its name, in fact, resulted from an auction campaign, the proceeds from the auction have been channeled to bolster the education of Lahu children in Thailand and to aid impoverished cancer patients.

Published in ZooKeys.

Five new plant species with striking flowers discovered in China

The discoveries are photographed and assessed, contributing to knowledge of China’s rich flora.

With more than 30,000 native plant species, including thousands found nowhere else on Earth, China is known for its abundant flora.  New species are frequently discovered in the country due to its size and variety of ecosystems.

These five new species with distinct flowers were recently published in Pensoft’s open-access journal PhytoKeys.

Melanoseris penghuana

Belonging to the daisy family (Asteraceae), Melanoseris penghuana was observed growing on steep grassy slopes along the valley edge of Jiulonggou, Mt. Jiaozi Xueshan, at an elevation of approximately 3,200 m.

Through data analysis from two field surveys, the conservation status of this species was classified as Vulnerable. However, located within the Jiaozi Xueshan National Nature Reserve where human disturbance is minimal, its habitat is relatively well protected.

Research paper: https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.238.116343

Hydrangea xinfeniae

Hydrangea xinfeniae belongs to the family Hydrangeaceae and was discovered in the Huagaoxi National Nature Reserve in Shuiwei Town, Sichuan Province. It grows on moist soils under the broadleaved forest at an elevation of 1,200–1,300 m.

Currently known from only three relatively small populations of the type locality, its conservation status is assessed as Data Deficient.

Research paper: https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.238.114289

Prunus tongmuensis

This new species of cherry blossom belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae). It is currently known only from Wuyishan National Park, Fujian and Jiangxi Province, where it grows in various habitats such as the margins of evergreen broad-leaved forests, valleys, or roadsides, at an altitude of 600–1,000 m.

Research paper: https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.237.115098

Ophiorrhiza reflexa

Ophiorrhiza reflexa

Belonging to the madder family (Rubiaceae), Ophiorrhiza reflexa grows in moist areas under evergreen broad-leaved forests in the limestone region of Napo County, Guangxi.

Researchers found three populations of the species with more than 1,000 individuals at each site during field investigations. The three sites all belong to Laohutiao Provincial Nature Reserve, which is well-protected and not under threat. Ophiorrhiza reflexa is preliminarily assessed as Least Concern.

Research paper: https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.238.116767

Ligularia lushuiensis

Ligularia lushuiensis belongs to the daisy family (Asteraceae). It is currently known only from its type locality, Lushui, northwestern Yunnan, where it grows in alpine meadows at an elevation of 3,322 m.

Currently known only from a small population at its type locality, the single population researchers discovered consists of no more than 200 mature individuals. Overgrazing may threaten the habitat of this species, and it has been preliminarily categorised as Critically Endangered.

Research paper: https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.238.117340

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A new species of rare pseudoscorpion named after the Slovak president

Olpium caputi, named after Zuzana Čaputová, was discovered on the island Tahiti in French Polynesia

There are about 25,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean. The most remote of them are in North and East Polynesia, the Hawaiian Islands, and French Polynesia. Biologists have been attracted to these regions since the 18th century, but French Polynesia has received much less attention compared to the Hawaiian Islands.

A view of the area where Olpium caputi was found. Photo by Frédéric A. Jacq

Contributions to our knowledge of the pseudoscorpions of French Polynesia date from the 1930s and are associated with the Pacific Entomological Survey. Since then, the French Polynesian pseudoscorpion fauna has consisted of only four known species.

A female individual of Olpium caputi.

Thanks to international cooperation, a team of enthusiastic scientists has published the first discovery of a new species of pseudoscorpion from French Polynesia. Between 2017 and 2020, they studied French Polynesia’s fauna and environment for the French Polynesian Agricultural Service and as a part of a large-scale survey of arthropods. During their research work, they collected a few pseudoscorpion specimens on Huahine and Tahiti in the Society Islands.

Among them is a new species named Olpium caputi, collected by sieving moss at 1,450 m about sea level on the Mont Marau Summit, Tahiti, one of the Society Islands archipelago. Its scientific name honours Zuzana Čaputová, the President of Slovakia.

Zuzana Čaputová. Photo by Jindřich Nosek (NoJin) under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

“As a female leader, she takes a strong stance and supports women and scientists. Even in the 21st century, women in science or top positions are rare. The rarity of the research in French Polynesia, the uniqueness of the discovery, and the fact that the new species is a female, led us to name it after this inspiring woman who can be a role model of courage and perseverance for many women,” says Jana Christophoryová, who led the study.

The paper is published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

The team:

Katarína Krajčovičová of Bratislavské regionálne ochranárske združenie – BROZ, Bratislava, and Jana Christophoryová of Comenius University, Bratislava, are both zoologists, who specialize in the taxonomy, distribution, and ecology of pseudoscorpions. Frédéric Jacq, botanist, and Thibault Ramage, entomologist, are independent naturalists who have been working on improving the faunistic and taxonomic knowledge of French Polynesia for over 15 years.

Research article:

Krajčovičová K, Ramage T, Jacq FA, Christophoryová J (2024) Pseudoscorpions (Arachnida, Pseudoscorpiones) from French Polynesia with first species records and description of new species. ZooKeys 1192: 29-43. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1192.111308