A year of biodiversity: Top 10 new species of 2021 from Pensoft journals, Part 1

With 2022 round the corner, we thought we’d start off the celebrations by looking back to some the most memorable discoveries of 2021. And what a year it has been! Many new species made their debuts on the pages of Pensoft journals – here’s our selection of the most exciting animals, plants and fungi that we published in 2021.

With 2022 round the corner, we thought we’d start off the celebrations by looking back to some the most memorable discoveries of 2021. And what a year it has been! Many new species made their debuts on the pages of Pensoft journals – here’s our selection of the most exciting animals, plants and fungi that we published in 2021.

10. The delicious wild oak mushroom

It’s amazing that edible species, long known to local communities, can still present a novelty for science. This was the case with Cantharellus veraecrucis, a chanterelle from – that’s right, Veracruz, Mexico.

During the rainy season, locals harvest this mushroom from tropical oak forests to sell it or enjoy it as a delicacy; this is probably why they’ve dubbed it “Oak mushroom”.

Published in: MycoKeys

9. The master of disguise

If you ever see a leaf insect, there’s a good chance you won’t notice it – these little critters are masters of camouflaging.

This picture was taken in 2014, when Jérôme Constant and Joachim Bresseel from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences were enjoying a night walk in Vietnam’s Nui Chua National Park. It wasn’t until this year, though, that this beauty got its own scientific name: Cryptophyllium nuichuaense. Named after the park where it was found, it is one of 13 new species of leaf insects described in our journal ZooKeys this February.

This leaf insect, like many others, is endemic to Vietnam. This is why the researchers who found itcall for the creation of more protected areas in order to keep this precious biodiversity intact.

Published in: ZooKeys

8. The Neil Gaiman spider

Unlike most spiders, trapdoor spiders don’t use silk to make a web. Instead, they live in burrows lined with silk that they cover with a “trapdoor”. They are relatively widely spread, but you’d rarely encounter one out in the open, because they spend most of their lives underground.

This is probably why arachnologists and spider lovers the world over got so excited when Dr. Rebecca Godwin (Piedmont University, GA) and Dr. Jason Bond (University of California, Davis, CA) described 33 new species of trapdoor spiders from the genus Ummidia – in addition to the 27 already known.

Dr. Rebecca Godwin talks to L. Brian Patrick about her discovery of 33 new species of trapdoor spiders on his podcast New Species.

One of the 33 is Ummidia neilgaimani, named after fantasy and horror writer Neil Gaiman. A particular favorite of Dr. Godwin, Gaiman is the author of a number of books with spider-based characters. His novel American Gods features a character based on the West African spider god Anansi and a World Tree “one hour south of Blacksburg,” not far from the type locality of this species. He’s also part of the documentary Sixteen Legs, in his own words “An amazing film about Tasmanian cave spider sex.”

“I think anything we can do to increase people’s interest in the diversity around them is worthwhile and giving species names that people recognize but that still have relevant meaning is one way to do that,” says Dr. Godwin.

Published in: ZooKeys

7. The deadly Chinese-goddess snake

Bungarus suzhenae was only described as a new species this year, but its reputation preceded it – in a bad way. Researchers were already familiar with a notorious black-and-white banded krait that bit herpetologists on expeditions in Myanmar and China – in one infamous case, to death. After extensive morphological and phylogenetical analysis, the researchers were finally able to confirm it as new to science.

The story behind B. suzhenae’s name is interesting, too: it was named after a character from the traditional Chinese myth ‘Legend of White Snake’. The powerful snake goddess Bai Su Zhen is to this day regarded as a symbol of true love and good-heartedness in China. 

Snakebites from kraits – including this one – are known to have a high mortality. This is why the new knowledge on B. suzhenae and its description as a new species are essential to the research on its venom and an important step in the development of antivenom and improved snakebite treatment.

Published in: ZooKeys

6. The ephemeral fairy lanterns

Commonly known as “fairy lanterns”, plants of the genus Thismia are very rare and small in size. They are mycoheterotrophic, which means they live in close association with fungi from which they acquire most of their nutrition. They’re also very elusive, growing in dark, remote rainforests, and visible only when they emerge to flower and set seed after heavy rain.

In fact, researchers were only able to find one specimen of the new T. sitimeriamiae, which they discovered in the Terengganu State of Malaysia – the rest of the population had been destroyed by wild boars.

Just discovered, T. sitimeriamiae may already be threatened by extinction – which is why the research team that discovered it suggest that this exceptionally rare plant is classified as Critically Endangered.

Published in: PhytoKeys

Part 2 coming soon – stay tuned!

Decade-old photographs shared on social media give away a new species of pygmy grasshopper

While scrolling through iNaturalist – a social network where professional and citizen scientists share their photographs, in order to map biodiversity observations from across the globe – a group of students from Croatia discovered a couple of curious pictures, taken in 2008 in the Peruvian rainforest and posted in 2018. What they were looking at was a pygmy grasshopper sporting a unique pattern of lively colors. The motley insect was nothing they have so far encountered in the scientific literature.

While scrolling through iNaturalist – a social network where professional and citizen scientists share their photographs, in order to map biodiversity observations from across the globe – a group of students from Croatia discovered a couple of curious pictures, taken in 2008 in the Peruvian rainforest and posted in 2018. What they were looking at was a pygmy grasshopper sporting a unique pattern of lively colors. The motley insect was nothing they have so far encountered in the scientific literature.

The scientist and photographer Roberto Sindaco, Museo Civico di Storia naturale (Torino, Italy) graciously shared his camera roll with Niko Kasalo, Maks Deranja, and Karmela Adžić, graduate students under the mentorship of Josip Skejo, all currently affiliated with University of Zagreb, Faculty of Science, Croatia. Together, they published a paper describing the yet to be named insect in the open-access scientific journal Journal of Orthoptera Research.

Typically, new species are described from specimens collected from their natural habitats and then deposited in a museum to be preserved for future reference. The authors, possessing several high-quality photographs, decided to challenge the norm and name the new species based on photographs only. The paper was initially rejected, but a compromise was reached—it could be published with the species name removed.

The International Code of Zoological nomenclature is a document that contains regulations for proper scientific naming of animal species. It allows naming species from photographs, but the practice is generally looked down upon. Thus, the authors decided to use the nameless species to draw attention to this problem and bring more clarity. Names in zoology consist of two words: the genus name and the species name. As the species name was denied, the grasshopper is now mysteriously referred to as „the nameless Scaria“.

Another important message of this paper is how citizen science portals, such as iNaturalist, allow everybody interested in nature to contribute to ‘real’ scientific work by posting their findings online.

The authors believe that including laypeople in the scientific process can help bridge the communication gap between scientists and the general population, dissipating the growing suspicion towards science. The researchers urge everybody to engage with nature around them and capture its beauty with their camera lens. 

“Only by interacting with nature can we truly feel how much we might lose if we do not take care of it, and care is urgently needed,”

said the authors of the study.
Male of the nameless Scaria species
Photo by Roberto Sindaco

Original source:

Kasalo N, Deranja M, Adžić K, Sindaco R, Skejo J (2021) Discovering insect species based on photographs only: The case of a nameless species of the genus Scaria (Orthoptera: Tetrigidae). Journal of Orthoptera Research 30(2): 173-184. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.30.65885

Snake photo posted on Instagram leads to the discovery of a new species from the Himalayas

An image on Instagram prompted the discovery of a new species of Kukri snake from Himachal Pradesh, India. Intrigued by a post shared by a master student, the research team found and examined more specimens to discover they belonged to a yet undescribed species. Their study, published in the open-access journal Evolutionary Systematics, highlights how little we still know about the biodiversity in the Western Himalayas.

Virender Kumar Kharadwaj

Intrigued by a photo shared on Instagram, a research team from India discovered a previously unknown species of kukri snake.

Staying at home in Chamba because of the COVID-19 lockdown, Virendar K. Bhardwaj, a master student in Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, started exploring his backyard, photographing everything he found there and posting the pictures online. His Instagram account started buzzing with the life of the snakes, lizards, frogs, and insects he encountered.

One of those photos – a picture of a kukri snake – popped up in the feed of Zeeshan A. Mirza (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore) and immediately caught his attention. After a chat with Harshil Patel (Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat), he decided to get in touch with Virendar and find out more about the sighting.

The snake, which Virendar encountered along a mud road on a summer evening, belongs to a group commonly known as Kukri snakes, named so because of their curved teeth that resemble the Nepali dagger “Kukri”. 

At first sight, the individual that Virendar photographed looked a lot like the Common Kukri snake (Oligodon arnensis). However, a herpetologist could spot some unique features that raised questions about its identity. 

Kukri snake

Virendar uploaded the photo on 5 June 2020, and by the end of the month, after extensively surveying the area, he found two individuals – enough to proceed with their identification. However, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the research work as labs and natural history museums remained closed. 

Upon the reopening of labs, the team studied the DNA of the specimens and found out they belonged to a species different from the Common Kukri snake. Then, they compared the snakes’ morphological features with data from literature and museums and used micro computed tomography scans to further investigate their morphology. In the end, the research team were able to confirm the snakes belonged to a species previously unknown to science.

The discovery was published in a research paper in the international peer-reviewed journal Evolutionary Systematics. There, the new species is described as Oligodon churahensis, its name a reference to the Churah Valley in Himachal Pradesh, where it was discovered. 

What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species… if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.

Zeeshan A. Mirza

“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,” comments Zeeshan A. Mirza.

“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.”

“Compared to other biodiversity hotspots, the Western Himalayas are still poorly explored, especially in terms of herpetological diversity, but they harbor unique reptile species that we have only started to unravel in the last couple of years,” Mirza adds.

Research article:

Mirza ZA, Bhardwaj VK, Patel H (2021) A new species of snake of the genus Oligodon Boie in Fitzinger, 1826 (Reptilia, Serpentes) from the Western Himalayas. Evolutionary Systematics 5(2): 335-345. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.5.72564

A star in subtropical Japan: a new species of parasitoid wasp constructs unique cocoon masses hanging on 1-meter-long strings

A new species of parasitoid wasp that constructs remarkable star-shaped cocoon masses is reported from the biodiversity hot spot Ryukyu Islands. Japanese researchers observed how the wasps construct “stars” after making their way out of the moth larvae they inhabit during their own larval stage. In their study, published in the open-access journal Journal of Hymenoptera Research, the team discuss the ecological significance of the cocoon mass and the evolution of this peculiar structure.

A unique “star” was discovered from the Ryukyu Islands, a biodiversity hot spot in subtropical Japan: a star-shaped structure that turned out to be the cocoon mass of a new species of parasitoid wasp. Researchers Shunpei Fujie (Osaka Museum of Natural History), So Shimizu, Kaoru Maeto (Kobe University), Koichi Tone (Okinawa Municipal Museum), and Kazunori Matsuo (Kyushu University) described this parasitoid wasp as a new species in the open-access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

The new parasitoid wasps, Meteorus stellatus. Photo by Fujie S

Parasitoid wasps parasitize a variety of organisms, mostly insects. They lay eggs in the host, a larva of hawk moth in this case, where the wasp larvae later hatch. After eating the host from the inside out, the larvae spin threads to form cocoons, in which they pupate, and from which the adult wasps eventually emerge. 

The larvae of Meteorus stellatus emerging from a host moth. Photo by Tone K

Larvae of the newly discovered parasitoid wasp form star-shaped masses of cocoons lined up in a spherical pattern, suspended by a thread that can reach up to 1 meter in length. The structure, 7 to 14 mm wide and 9 to 23 mm long, can accommodate over 100 cocoons.

The star-shaped cocoon mass and the cable of the new parasitoid wasps. Photo by Shimizu S

Despite its peculiarity, the wasp species constructing these masses had not been previously described: morphological observation and molecular analysis revealed that it was new to science. The authors aptly called it Meteorus stellatus, adding the Latin word for “starry” to its scientific name.

Thanks to the recent publication, we now have the first detailed report about the construction of such a remarkable cocoon mass in parasitoid wasps. We can also see what the process looks like, as the researchers were able to film the wasps escaping from the moth larvae and forming the star-shaped structure.

Why does M. stellatus form cocoons in such a unique structure?

The authors of the study believe this unique structure helps the wasps survive through the most critical time, i.e. the period of constructing cocoons and pupating, when they are exposed to various natural enemies and environmental stresses. The star shape most likely reduces the exposed area of individual cocoons, thus increasing their defense against hyper-parasitoids (wasps attacking cocoons of other parasitoid wasps), while the long thread that suspends the cocoon mass protects the cocoons from potential enemies like ants.

“How parasitoid wasps have evolved to form such unique masses instead of the common individual cocoons should be the next thing on our ‘to-research’ list,” say the authors.

Research article:

Fujie S, Shimizu S, Tone K, Matsuo K, Maeto K (2021) Stars in subtropical Japan: a new gregarious Meteorus species (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Euphorinae) constructs enigmatic star-shaped pendulous communal cocoons. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 86: 19-45. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.86.71225

First moth species on Alpenrose discovered

Discovery of the first moth species to mine the leaves of the highly poisonous Alpine rose

 Rust-red alpine rose, one of the most popular alpine plants. Photo by Ingrid Huemer

An Austrian-Swiss research team was able to find a previously unknown glacial relic in the Alps, the Alpine rose leaf-miner moth. It is the first known species to have its caterpillars specializing on the rust-red alpine rose, a very poisonous, widely distributed plant that most animals, including moths and butterflies, strictly avoid. The extraordinary record was just published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Alpine Entomology.

Poisonous host plant

The rust-red alpine rose (Rhododendron ferrugineum) is among the best-known and most attractive plants due to its flowering splendor – at least for humans. It is, in fact, a highly poisonous plant, strictly avoided by grazing animals. For insects, the alpine rose is attractive at most as a nectar plant; insect larvae, on the other hand, develop on it only in exceptional cases. This also applies to Alpine butterflies and moths, which leave Alpine roses largely untouched despite their wide distribution. Therefore, the discovery of a highly specialized species in the Alps came as a complete surprise.

Chance find

Since alpine roses are unattractive to caterpillars and no insect the entire Alpine region was previously known to specialize on them, butterfly and moth experts had considered them rather uninteresting and ignored them in their research. The discovery of the alpine rose leaf-miner wasn’t the result of a targeted search: it was a pure stroke of luck.

During a cloudy spell in July this year, researchers surveying the butterflies in Ardez in the Engadine valley, Switzerland, happened to take a break exactly at an infested alpine rose bush. 

“The accidental sighting of the first caterpillar in an alpine rose leaf was an absolute adrenaline rush, it was immediately clear that this must be an extraordinary species,”

Peter Huemer, researcher and head of the natural sciences department of the Tyrolean State Museums

Peter Huemer, researcher and head of the natural sciences department of the Tyrolean State Museums, and Swiss butterfly and moth expert Jürg Schmid came back in late July and early August to look for caterpillars and pupae and find out more about this curious insect. The extended search yielded evidence of a stable population of a species that was initially a complete enigma. 

Life in the leaf

The alpine rose leaf-miner moth drills through the upper leaf skin and into the leaf interior immediately after the caterpillar hatches. The caterpillar then spends its entire life until pupation between the intact leaf skins, eating the leaf from the inside. Thanks to this behavior, the caterpillar is just as well protected from bad weather as from many predators such as birds, spiders, or some carnivore insects. The feeding trail, called a leaf mine, begins with a long corridor and ends in a large square-like mine section. The feces are deposited inside this mine. When the time comes for pupation, the caterpillar leaves the infested leaf and makes a typical web on the underside or a nearby leaf. With the help of several fine silk threads, it produces an elaborate “hammock”, in which the pupation finally takes place. In the laboratory, after about 10 days, the successful breeding to a moth succeeded, with a striking result.

Enigmatic glacial relic

Final instar larva of the alpine rose leaf-miner moth on Rhododendron ferrugineum in Ardez, Graubünden, Switzerland. Photo by Jürg Schmid

Huemer and Schmid were surprised to find out that the moths belonged to a species that was widespread in northern Europe, northern Asia and North America – the swamp porst leaf-miner butterfly Lyonetia ledi. By looking at its morphological features, such as wing color and pattern, and comparing its DNA barcodes to those of northern European specimens, they were able to confirm its identity.

Habitat of the alpine rose leaf-miner moth in Engadine/Switzerland with Rhododendron ferrugineum. Photo by Jürg Schmid

The Engadine population, however, is located more than 400 km away from the nearest other known populations, which are on the border of Austria and the Czech Republic. Furthermore, the species lives in northern Europe exclusively on swamp porst and Gagel bush – two shrubs that are typical for raised bogs and absent from the Alps. However, the researchers suggest that in earlier cold phases – some 22,000 years ago – the swamp porst and the alpine rose did share a habitat in perialpine lowland habitats north of the Alps. It is very likely that after the last cold period and the melting of the glaciers, some populations of the species shifted their host preference from the swamp porst to the alpine rose. The separation of the distribution areas of the two plants caused by subsequent warm phases inevitably led to the separation of the moth populations. 

Extinction risk

The Alpine Rose Leaf-miner Moth is so far only known from the Lower Engadine. It lives in a steep, north-exposed, spruce-larch-pine forest at about 1,800 m above sea level. The high snow coverage in winter and the largely shady conditions in summer mean that alpine roses don’t get to bloom there. The scientists suspect that the moth species can still be discovered in places with similar conditions in the northern Alps, such as in neighboring Tyrol and Vorarlberg. Since the moth is likely nocturnal and flies late in the year, probably hibernating in the adult stage, the search for the caterpillars and pupae is more promising. However, the special microclimate of the Swiss location does not suggest that this species, which has so far been overlooked despite 250 years of research, is widespread. On the contrary, there are legitimate concerns that it could be one of the first victims of climate change.

Research article:

Huemer P, Schmid J (2021) Relict populations of Lyonetia ledi Wocke, 1859 (Lepidoptera, Lyonetiidae) from the Alps indicate postglacial host-plant shift to the famous Alpenrose (Rhododendron ferrugineum L.). Alpine Entomology 5: 101-106. https://doi.org/10.3897/alpento.5.76930

Trigonopterus corona, the new species of tiny beetle named after the coronavirus

… and 27 other new species of beetles discovered on Sulawesi Island

Many curious animals can be found on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi – such as the deer-hog and the midget buffalo. But the island’s tropical forests hide a diversity of tiny insects that still remains largely unexplored. Museum scientists from Indonesia and Germany have just discovered 28 new species of beetles, all belonging to the weevil genus Trigonopterus.

Twenty-four newly discovered species of the genus Trigonopterus from Sulawesi. Image by Alexander Riedel

Most of the new species were collected by Raden Pramesa Narakusumo, curator of beetles at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, from two localities of Central Sulawesi Province: Mt. Dako and Mt. Pompangeo. In fact, the forests on their slopes had never been searched for small weevils before.

A view from a ridge over the cloudy slopes of Mt. Pompangeo. Photo by Raden Pramesa Narakusumo

His research partner, Alexander Riedel of the Natural History Museum Karlsruhe, had been studying this genus for the past 15 years and was planning for a research trip to Papua New Guinea, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Finding himself grounded, he decided to work on the specimens from Sulawesi together with Narakusumo instead.

After diagnosing the new species, it was a challenge to find suitable names for them. One obvious choice was Trigonopterus corona, which reflects the large impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this project. However, T. corona is by far not the first insect species with a pandemic-inspired name. In the last year, we’ve seen the species descriptions of the caddisfly Potamophylax coronavirus and the wasps Stethantyx covida and Allorhogas quarentenus.

Trigonopterus corona.
Trigonopterus ewok.

While some of the newly described species go by rather ‘standard’ names that derive from either the localities they have been collected from or their distinct characters, others were given a free pass to the Hall of Fame. Two of them were named after Indonesian movie characters (T. gundala and T. unyil), while T. ewok is another addition based on the Star Wars universe – perfectly in line with T. chewbacca, T. yoda and T.porg, all described between 2016 and 2019 by teams involving Riedel. The two-millimeter-long, rust-coloured Trigonopterus ewok was found at 1900–2000 m on Mt Pompangeo, hiding among the leaf litter in the forest.

But how come the critters have remained overlooked for so long? Almost all of these beetles measure only 2-3 millimeters, while most entomologists have a preference for the larger and strikingly looking stag beetles or jewel beetles. 

A second factor is the superficial resemblance of many species: they are most easily diagnosed by their DNA sequences. Besides the publication in the open-access journal ZooKeys, high-resolution photographs of each species were uploaded to the Species ID website, along with a short scientific description. This provides a face to the species name, an important prerequisite for future studies.

R.P. Narakusumo during fieldwork at the top of Mt. Dako. Photo by Raden Pramesa Narakusumo

This is the duo’s second published paper on Trigonopterus weevils from Sulawesi – the first one describing the whopping 103 new species from the area. Currently, the known Trigonopterus species on the island amount to 132, which is likely a mere fraction of the real diversity. The numerous mountains of Sulawesi have a distinct fauna of endemics that have evolved over the past millions of years, and these wingless, flightless weevils, highly isolated in their habitats, are a good example of this diversification. Their evolution is interwoven with the island´s geological history. Riedel wants to increase the number of sampled localities: 

“Once we have enough locality coverage and understand the weevils’ evolution, we can draw conclusions on the geological processes that formed the island of Sulawesi. This is a fascinating subject, because this island was formed by the fusion of different fragments millions of years ago.” The new species thus fill an important gap required for solving the island´s geological puzzle.

For the Indonesian side, it is equally important to obtain an inventory of species: “A large percentage of Indonesian biodiversity is yet unknown and we need names and diagnoses of species, so we can use these in further studies on conservation and bioprospecting,” says R. Pramesa Narakusumo. “Two of the newly described species came from our museum collection, and this underlines the importance of museums as a source for biological discoveries,” he added.

With many more new species of this genus to be expected, it is a lucky coincidence that the number of Star Wars characters is equally long. May the Force be with these researchers!

Research article:

Narakusumo RP, Riedel A (2021) Twenty-eight new species of Trigonopterus Fauvel (Coleoptera, Curculionidae) from Central Sulawesi. ZooKeys 1065: 29-79. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1065.71680

Delicious discoveries: Scientists just described a new onion species from the Himalaya

While the onion, garlic, scallion, shallot and chives have been on our plates for centuries, becoming staple foods around the world, their group, the genus Allium, seems to be a long way from running out of surprises. Recently, a group of researchers from India described a new onion species from the western Himalaya region, long known to the locals as “jambu” and “phran”, in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

The genus Allium contains about 1,100 species worldwide, including many staple foods like onion, garlic, scallion, shallot and chives. Even though this group of vegetables has been making appearances at family dinners for centuries, it turns out that it is a long way from running out of surprises, as a group of researchers from India recently found out.

The flower of Allium negianum

In 2019, Dr. Anjula Pandey, Principal Scientist at ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources in New Delhi, together with scientists, Drs K Madhav Rai, Pavan Kumar Malav and S Rajkumar, was working on the systematic botany of the genus Allium for the Indian region, when the team came across plants of what would soon be confirmed as a new species for science in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

The plant, called Allium negianum, was discovered in the Indo-Tibetan border area of Malari village, Niti valley of Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. It grows at 3000 to 4800 m above sea level and can be found along open grassy meadows, sandy soils along rivers, and streams forming in snow pasture lands along alpine meadows (locally known as “bugyal” or “bugial”), where the melting snow actually helps carry its seeds to more favourable areas. With a pretty narrow distribution, this newly described speciesis restricted to the region of western Himalaya and hasn’t yet been reported from anywhere else in the world. The scientific name Allium negianum honours the late Dr. Kuldeep Singh Negi, an eminent explorer and Allium collector from India.

Although new to science, this species has long been known under domestic cultivation to local communities. While working on this group, the research team heard of  phran, jambu, sakua, sungdung, and kacho – different local names for seasoning onions. According to locals, the one from Niti valley was particularly good, even deemed the best on the market.

The bulb and underground parts of Allium negianum.

So far only known from the western Himalaya region, Allium negianum might be under pressure from people looking to taste it: the researchers fear that indiscriminate harvest of its leaves and bulbs for seasoning may pose a threat to its wild populations.

Research article:

Pandey A, Rai KM, Malav PK, Rajkumar S (2021) Allium negianum (Amaryllidaceae): a new species under subg. Rhizirideum from Uttarakhand Himalaya, India. PhytoKeys 183: 77-93. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.183.65433

Two new pit vipers discovered from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Two new species of venomous snakes were just added to Asia’s fauna – the Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi) from Zayu, Tibet, and the Glacier pit viper (G. swild) found west of the Nujiang River and Heishui, Sichuan, east of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Our team of researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Bangor University published the discovery in the open-access journal ZooKeys. In this study, we performed a new molecular phylogenetic analysis of the Asian pit vipers.

Guest blog post by Jingsong Shi

Two new species of venomous snakes were just added to Asia’s fauna – the Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi) from Zayu, Tibet, and the Glacier pit viper (G. swild) found west of the Nujiang River and Heishui, Sichuan, east of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Our team of researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Bangor University published the discovery in the open-access journal ZooKeys. In this study, we performed a new molecular phylogenetic analysis of the Asian pit vipers.

Glacier pit viper (Gloydius swild)

The Nujiang pit viper has a greyish brown back with irregular black ring-shaped crossbands, wide, greyish-brown stripes behind the eyes, and relativity short fangs, while the Glacier pit viper is blueish-grey, with zigzag stripes on its back, and has relatively narrow stripes behind its eyes.

Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi)

Interestingly, the Glacier pit viper was found under the Dagu Holy-glacier National Park: the glacier lake lies 2000 meters higher than the habitat of the snakes, at more than 4,880 m above sea level. This discovery suggests that the glaciers might be a key factor to the isolation and speciation of alpine pit vipers in southwest China.

The stories behind the snakes’ scientific names are interesting too: with the new species from Tibet, Gloydius lipipengi, the name is dedicated to my Master’s supervisor, Professor Pi-Peng Li from the Institute of Herpetology at Shenyang Normal University, just in time for Li’s sixtieth birthday. Prof. Li has devoted himself to the study of the herpetological diversity of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and it was under his guidance that I became an Asian pit viper enthusiast and professional herpetological researcher. 

Gloydius swild, the new species from Heishui, Sichuan, is in turn named after the SWILD Group, which studies the fauna and biodiversity of southewst China. They discovered and collected the snake during an expedition to the Dagu Holy-glacier.

A misty morning near the habitat of Glacier pit viper.

We are equally impressed by the sceneries we encountered during our field work: throughout our journey, we got to look at sacred, crystal-like glacier lakes embraced by the mountains, morning mist falling over the village, and colorful broadleaf-conifer forests. During our expedition, we met a lot of hospitable Tibetan inhabitants and enjoyed their kindness and treats, which made the expedition all the more unforgettable.

Research article:

Shi J-S, Liu J-C, Giri R, Owens JB, Santra V, Kuttalam S, Selvan M, Guo K-J, Malhotra A (2021) Molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus Gloydius (Squamata, Viperidae, Crotalinae), with description of two new alpine species from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China. ZooKeys 1061: 87-108. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1061.70420

Two new tree species discovered in Colombia

Trees of the genus Otoba have small, foul-smelling flowers coloured in yellow or greenish yellow, and round, aromatic fruits. Toucans, monkeys, or small terrestrial animals sometimes feed on their fruits, while herbivorous insects have developed a taste for their leaves. Part of the nutmeg family, Otoba trees are widely distributed from Nicaragua to Brazil, with as many as nine species native to Colombia.

Fruits of Otoba from Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. Photo by Reinaldo Aguilar

Despite this apparent abundance, though, scientific knowledge on their biology is very limited.

Thanks to researchers from the Louisiana State University and the Missouri Botanical Garden, we now know more about these interesting trees, as Daniel Santamaría-Aguilar and Laura P. Lagomarsino recently described two new species of Otoba in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PhytoKeys.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic meant limited access to physical specimens, the research team were able to identify the two new species while investigating herbaria samples. This discovery helps clear some taxonomic confusions in the genus, as both of these new species had often been mistaken for other Otoba members.

The newly described Otoba scottmorii and Otoba squamosa can be found in Colombia’s Antioquia department, growing in premontane and humid forests. Known from the premontane forests of Cordillera Occidental in Colombia, Otoba squamosa grows at 1330–1450 m, while Otoba scottmorii, locally known as Cuángare otobo, grows in the humid forests in the Department of Antioquia, northwestern Colombia.

Staminate flowers of Otoba from Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. Photo by Reinaldo Aguilar

The scientific name scotmorii is a tribute to Dr. Scott A. Mori (1941–2020), “a wonderful person and skilled botanist; a dedicated explorer of Central and South America humid forests (where this species occurs), especially in the Guianas and the Amazon basin; and an authority on Neotropical Lecythidaceae,” who inspired and personally supported Daniel Santamaría-Aguilar in his botanical work.

Because their habitats are threatened by deforestation, both tree species are preliminarily assessed as Endangered according to the criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Research article:

Santamaría-Aguilar D, Lagomarsino LP (2021) Two new species of Otoba (Myristicaceae) from Colombia. PhytoKeys 178: 147-170. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.178.64564

New beautiful, dragon-like species of lizard discovered in the Tropical Andes

Enyalioides feiruzae is a colourful, highly variable new species of lizard discovered in the upper basin of the Huallaga River in central Peru. The authors, having searched for amphibians and reptiles in the area between 2011 and 2018, have now finally described this stunning reptile as new to science in the open-access journal Evolutionary Systematics. In fact, E. feiruzae is the fourth herp species discovered by the team in this biologically underresearched part of Peru.

The Huallaga River in the Andes of central Peru extends for 1,138 km, making it the largest tributary of the Marañón River, the spinal cord of the Amazon River. This basin harbours a great variety of ecosystems, including the Peruvian Yunga ecoregion, which is considered a shelter of endemic birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Closeup of a male of Enyalioides feiruzae. Photo by Pablo J. Venegas

How is it possible, then, that this corner of the Tropical Andes remains poorly known to biologists to this day? The main reason is indeed a quite simple one and it lies in the civil wars with terrorist organisations and drug traffickers that were going on in the region in the 1980s, disrupting biological studies. 

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the Peruvian government was able to liberate the area, and that’s when, little by little, some biologists began to venture back to the Huallaga Valley. However, forest destruction by coca plantations during the internal war, which eventually led to the construction of a hydroelectric power plant, left the Huallaga valley highly fragmented, making for an even more urgent need for biodiversity research in the area.

An adult female of Enyalioides feiruzae. Photo by Pablo J. Venegas

A new species of wood lizard, Enyalioides feiruzae, was recently confirmed from the premontane forest of the Huallaga river basin, and described in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Evolutionary Systematics. It took the researchers seven years of field surveys to formally describe it. To do so, they had first to spend plenty of nights in the forests, in order to pick by hand lizards that were sleeping on bushes 20–150 cm above the ground.

The Feiruz wood lizards – especially the males – come in a stunning variety of colours. Males can have brownish turquoise, gray, or greenish brown backs traced with pale lines. Females, in turn, can be greenish brown or floury brown, with faint dark brown lines on their back, limbs and tail, and spots on the sides.

The researchers believe E. feiruzae might have established as a separate species after it got geographically separated from a very similar lizard, E. rudolfarndti, possibly as a result from tectonic activity and climatic oscillations that occurred from the Late Oligocene to the Early Miocene.

The Feiruz wood lizard was named after – you guessed it – Feiruz – “a female green iguana, muse and lifelong friend”. The owner of Feiruz the iguana, Catherine Thomson, supported the authors’ efforts in taxonomic research and nature conservation.

The habitat of the E. feiruzae is very fragmented by croplands and pastures for cattle ranching, and for now we only know of a single protected population in the Tingo Maria National Park. Much more remains to be discovered about the size and distribution of E. feiruzae populations and their ability to survive and adapt in a fragmented landscape.

The new species belongs to the genus Enyalioides, which contains sixteen species. More than half of the known Enyalioides species have been described in the last two decades, largely due to the recent surveys of remote places in the Tropical Andes from Ecuador and Peru.

Original source:

Venegas PJ, Chávez G, García-Ayachi LA, Duran V, Torres-Carvajal O (2021) A new species of wood lizard (Hoplocercinae, Enyalioides) from the Río Huallaga Basin in Central Peru. Evolutionary Systematics 5(2): 263-273. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.5.69227