A new species of spiny mouse has been discovered in Ecuador, making it the 14th of its genus to be identified in the past five years. Neacomys marci, which was previously confused with another species, is around the length of a tennis ball, with a long tail, pale suede belly fur and a white throat.
Discovered in the Chocó biogeographic region in northwestern Ecuador, it is the 24th formally recognised species in its genus, which has seen significant upheaval in recent years.
Neacomys is a widely distributed genus of small spiny or bristly rodents that occupy habitats in eastern Panama and the northern half of South America. Since 2017, studies of the genus have been remarkably dynamic, resulting in the description of several new species.
However, as there are still many unexplored areas in South America and adjacent Central America (Panama), some of the currently recognised species have not been studied thoroughly, and the true diversity of the genus may be underestimated.
The Chocó biogeographic region is considered one of the most diverse biodiversity hotspots in South America, but one of the least studied despite its great size (along the Pacific coasts of Panama, Colombia and Ecuador). The rainforests of northwestern Ecuador have high biodiversity and endemism due to the influence of the Chocó and the Andes Mountains.
Major reviews of museum collections and increased field collection efforts have helped scientists understand Neacomys marci and other species. Molecular analysis is also being used to assist with more accurate animal group identification.
The new species was named after Marc Hoogeslag of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, who was co-founder and leader of the International Union for Conservation of Nature – Netherlands Land Acquisition Fund, which helps local groups around the world establish new ecological reserves and conserve endangered species. The EcoMinga Foundation‘s Manduriacu Reserve, home to this new species, is one of many reserves that have benefited from Hoogeslag’s program.
Tinoco N, Koch C, Colmenares-Pinzón JE, Castellanos FX, Brito J (2023) New species of the Spiny Mouse genus Neacomys (Cricetidae, Sigmodontinae) from northwestern Ecuador. ZooKeys 1175: 187-221. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1175.106113
A new species of owl has just been described from Príncipe Island, part of the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe in Central Africa. Scientists were first able to confirm its presence in 2016, although suspicions of its occurrence gained traction from 1998, and testimonies from local people suggesting its existence could be traced back as far as 1928.
The new owl species was described in the open-access journal ZooKeys based on multiple lines of evidence such as morphology, plumage colour and pattern, vocalisations, and genetics. Data was gathered and processed by an international team led by Martim Melo (CIBIO and Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto), Bárbara Freitas (CIBIO and the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences) and Angelica Crottini (CIBIO).
The bird is now officially known as the Principe Scops-Owl, or Otus bikegila.
“Otus” is the generic name given to a group of small owls sharing a common history, commonly called scops-owls. They are found across Eurasia and Africa and include such widespread species as the Eurasian Scops-Owl (Otus scops) and the African Scops-Owl (Otus senegalensis).
The scientists behind the discovery further explain that the species epithet “bikegila” was chosen in homage of Ceciliano do Bom Jesus, nicknamed Bikegila – a former parrot harvester from Príncipe Island and now a ranger of its natural park.
“The discovery of the Principe Scops-Owl was only possible thanks to the local knowledge shared by Bikegila and by his unflinching efforts to solve this long-time mystery,” the researchers say. “As such, the name is also meant as an acknowledgment to all locally-based field assistants who are crucial in advancing the knowledge on the biodiversity of the world.”
In the wild, the easiest way to recognise one would be its unique call – in fact, it was one of the main clues leading to its discovery.
“Otus bikegila‘s unique call is a short “tuu” note repeated at a fast rate of about one note per second, reminiscent of insect calls. It is often emitted in duets, almost as soon as the night has fallen,” Martim Melo explains.
The entire Principe Island was extensively surveyed to determine the distribution and population size of the new species. Results, published in the journal Bird Conservation International, show that the Principe Scops-Owl is found only in the remaining old-growth native forest of Príncipe in the uninhabited southern part of the island. There, it occupies an area of about 15 km2, apparently due to a preference for lower elevations. In this small area (about four times the size of Central Park), the densities of the owl are relatively high, with the population estimated at around 1000-1500 individuals.
Nevertheless, because all individuals of the species occur in this single and very small location (of which a part will be affected in the near future by the construction of a small hydro-electric dam), researchers have proposed that the species should be classified as ‘Critically Endangered’, the highest threat level on the IUCN Red List. This recommendation must still be evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Monitoring the population will be essential to get more precise estimates of its size and follow its trends. For this purpose, a survey protocol relying on the deployment of automatic recording units and AI to retrieve the data from these has been designed and successfully tested.
“The discovery of a new species that is immediately evaluated as highly threatened illustrates well the current biodiversity predicament”, the researchers say. “On a positive note, the area of occurrence of the Principe Scops-Owl is fully included within the Príncipe Obô Natural Park, which will hopefully help secure its protection.”
Thisis the eighth known species of bird endemic to Príncipe, further highlighting the unusually high level of bird endemism for this island of only 139 km2.
Even though a new species of scops-owl was just described from Príncipe, genetic data indicated that the island was, surprisingly, likely the first in the Gulf of Guinea to be colonised by a species of scops-owl.
“Although it may seem odd for a bird species to remain undiscovered for science for so long on such a small island, this is by no means an isolated case when it comes to owls,” the researchers state. “For example, the Anjouan Scops-Owl was rediscovered in 1992, 106 years after its last observation, on Anjouan Island (also known as Ndzuani) in the Comoro Archipelago, and the Flores Scops-Owl was rediscovered in 1994, 98 years after the previous report.”
“The discovery of a new bird species is always an occasion to celebrate and an opportunity to reach out to the general public on the subject of biodiversity,” says Martim Melo. “In this age of human-driven extinction, a major global effort should be undertaken to document what may soon not be anymore,” he and his team state in their paper.
“Birds are likely the best studied animal group. As such, the discovery of a new bird species in the 21st century underscores both the actuality of field-based explorations aiming at describing biodiversity, and how such curiosity-driven endeavour is more likely to succeed when coupled with local ecological knowledge, the participation of keen amateur naturalists, and persistence,” they add.
They believe that this “new wave of exploration, carried out by professionals and amateurs alike”, will help rekindle the link to the natural world, which will be essential to help revert the global biodiversity crisis.
Melo M, Freitas B, Verbelen P, da Costa SR, Pereira H, Fuchs J, Sangster G, Correia MN, de Lima RF, Crottini A (2022) A new species of scops-owl (Aves, Strigiformes, Strigidae, Otus) from Príncipe Island (Gulf of Guinea, Africa) and novel insights into the systematic affinities within Otus. ZooKeys 1126: 1-54. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1126.87635
The existence of five delightfully weird snail-sucking snakes slithering through the forest floors of Ecuador was announced by a group of scientists in a study in the open access journal Zookeys.
Believe or not, there is an entire group of snakes for which snails are number one on their menu. This is why their jaws are modified in such a way that they can suck the viscous slimy body of a snail right out of its shell.
Luckily for us, these snakes are harmless to humans. However, humans are not harmless to them. Four out of the five newly discovered species are already facing the possibility of becoming extinct, as the forest remnants they call home are currently being destroyed.
In a bid to take care after the unfortunate reptiles, the scientists auctioned the naming rights for the new species at a recent event in New York City. The money are to purchase and save a previously unprotected 72 ha (178 acre) plot of land where some of these species live.
To do so, Fundación Jocotoco is to add the purchased plot to the Buenaventura reserve, in order to expand the only protected area where two of the new snakes are found, and prevent these endangered snake species from going extinct.
Three of the five species were discovered during a series of expeditions to three rainforests in Ecuador between 2013 and 2017, conducted by Alejandro Arteaga, an Ecuadorian–Venezuelan PhD student at the American Museum of Natural History and scientific director of Tropical Herping, who partnered with Dr. Alex Pyron, The George Washington University and National Museum of Natural History, USA.
“We had to let people know that these cool snakes exist,” Alejandro said, “and that these species might soon stop to exist, and we need people’s help to protect the snake’s habitat.”
In order to confirm these five snakes as new species, the team of researchers, particularly Drs. Konrad Mebert, Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Nicolás Peñafiel, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Gabriela Aguiar, Tropical Herping, and Timothy Colston, The George Washington University and National Museum of Natural History, USA, counted scales and gathered measurements from more than 200 museum specimens, and extracted DNA from nearly 100 snakes.
Having made the highest bid at the auction, Rainforest Trust (RT) and Bob Ridgely got to name three of the five new snakes.
Thus, the species Dipsas georgejetti now honors George Jett, who supported the inception of Fundación Jocotoco’s reserves in Ecuador; while Dipsas bobridgelyi is a tribute to Dr. Robert “Bob” S. Ridgely, a leading ornithologist and distinguished conservationist who helped the establishment of the Buenaventura reserve. Bob, who was at the auction, chose the name Sibon bevridgelyi (Bev Ridgely’s Snail-Eater) to honor his father.
The remaining two snail-eating species, Dipsas oswaldobaezi and D. klebbai, were named after Dr. Oswaldo Báez and Casey Klebba, respectively, in recognition for their passion for Ecuador’s biodiversity and conservation.
“Several companies let you name a star after a loved one,” Alejandro says, “but, generally, such names have no formal validity. Naming an entire species after someone you love or admire is different. With few exceptions, this is the name that both the general public and the whole scientific community will use. So, why not let people choose the name of a species in exchange for a donation that protects its habitat?”
The act of naming species is essential in raising awareness about the existence of a species and its risk of extinction, but it also provides an opportunity to recognize and honor the work of the people and institutions fighting to protect the species.
“Naming species is at the core of biology,” says Dr. Juan M. Guayasamin, co-author of the study and a professor at Universidad San Francisco in Quito. “Not a single study is really complete if it is not attached to the name of the species, and most species that share the planet with us are not described.”
“Everybody knows elephants and orangutans,” says Dr. Martin Schaefer of Fundación Jocotoco, “but some reptiles and amphibians are even more threatened. Yet, we still lack even the basic information to protect them better. This is why the work by scientists is so important; it provides the necessary information to guide our conservation decisions.”
“Through photography or by joining a scientific expedition, the general public can learn more about hidden biodiversity and how threatened it is,” says Lucas Bustamante of Tropical Herping. “This is a model to obtain support for research and conservation while recruiting more environmental ambassadors.”
Watch the video below to follow entomologist and science communicator Phil Torres as he joins Alejandro Arteaga for one of his expeditions to document what it takes to find a new snake.
Arteaga A, Salazar-Valenzuela D, Mebert K, Peñafiel N, Aguiar G, Sánchez-Nivicela JC, Pyron RA, Colston TJ, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz MH, Venegas PJ, Guayasamin JM, Torres-Carvajal O (2018) Systematics of South American snail eating snakes (Serpentes, Dipsadini), with the description of five new species from Ecuador and Peru. ZooKeys 766: 79–147. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.766.24523
Having collected thousands of moth and butterfly species from across Costa Rica, famous ecologist Daniel Janzen, University of Pennsylvania, and his team were yet to find out many of their names. When they sought help from Dr. Gunnar Brehm, the taxonomist realised he needed too much time to describe species in the framework of an extensive revision of the genus, especially as there are still only a few biologists skilled to do this.
In the end, he found a way to revise the Neotropical looper moth genus Hagnagorafast and efficiently through avoiding wordy descriptions, but focusing on diagnostic characters, illustrated external characters, genitalia structures and DNA barcoding instead. His study is available in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
Having been put together back in the 19th century, most of the species within the Neotropical moth genus Hagnagora had been described by 1913. In modern days, it seemed necessary for the taxon to be revised. As a result, Dr. Gunnar Brehm herein publishes a “concise revision” comprising twenty species. It includes two species that have been revived from synonymy, two subspecies reinstated to a species level, four species excluded from the genus and the description of three new to science. In honour of the people who had funded the research, the new species have been named after them.
Following the revision, the research concludes not only the DNA molecules divergence between the separate species, but some subtle differences such as size, form of the wing blotches or the shape of the male genitalia.
Curious characteristic behaviour traits have also been noted within the genus. The representatives of the discussed genus fold their wings vertically while resting just like most butterflies and unlike the majority of related geometrid moths. Similarly, three of the revised species were noticed to be active during the day when they would often perch on moist substances like rotting plants, mud or dung, from whose fluids they would find vital nutrients.
The author stresses on the fact that taxonomists can hardly keep up with the pace inventories are being compiled, nor with the accelerating destruction of tropical rainforests. “Taxonomists therefore need to accelerate their workflows and try to make their papers useful not only to other taxonomists but for ecologists who need their support”, Dr. Gunnar Brehm says.
“What used to be one species ten years ago, known as Hagnagora anicata, is now regarded as a complex of six species, and more might be discovered in South American rain forests”, Brehm says. “Integrating information of molecules and morphology, as concisely as possible, appears to be one promising way to cope with the problem of slow taxonomy”, he explains in conclusion.
Brehm G (2015) Three new species of Hagnagora Druce, 1885 (Lepidoptera, Geometridae, Larentiinae) from Ecuador and Costa Rica and a concise revision of the genus. ZooKeys 537: 131-156. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.537.6090
Tracked by their calls at night after heavy rains, two species of narrow-mouthed frogs have been recorded as new. During the examinations it turned out that one of the studied specimens is a hermaphrodite and another one represents the first record of the genus Cophixalus for the Misool Island.
Belonging to the narrow-mouthed frog genus Cophixalus that occurs mainly in New Guinea and northern Australia, the two new species have been differentiated by their morphological features along with the specificity of their advertisement calls, produced by males to attract their partners. Both are characterised by small and slender bodies, measuring less than 23 mm in length.
Curious enough, when dissected one of the male specimens, assigned to the new species C. salawatiensis, revealed a female reproductive system with well-developed eggs. Simultaneously, neither its sound-producing organs, nor its calls differed in any way from the rest of the observed males from the same species. Therefore, it is to be considered a hermaphrodite.
Both new frog species have been retrieved from logged lowland rainforests. There the scientists noted that after heavy rains at night the males perched on leaves of bushes and produced sounds, characteristic for each species.
Guenther R, Richards S, Tjaturadi B, Krey K (2015) Two new species of the genus Cophixalusfrom the Raja Ampat Islands west of New Guinea (Amphibia, Anura, Microhylidae).Zoosystematics and Evolution 91(2): 199-213.doi: 10.3897/zse.91.5411