You’d think that after living alongside them for millions of years, we’d know just about every animal that roams the earth and its atmosphere. Thanks to limitations posed by our bodies and accessible technology, however, that’s far from true.
Recent research suggests that an astonishing 86 percent of all plants and animals on land and 91 percent of those in the seas have yet to be named and cataloged. Sadly, this revelation only underscores the importance of conservation: since human development and climate change means that many species will become extinct before they’re discovered.
Despite these seemingly insurmountable threats, scientists of all disciplines are still out in the field, working hard to create a record of each and every magnificent species our planet has to offer. As 2012 draws to a close, we thought it might be fun to spotlight some of the new creatures that took their official place in history this year. Some are big, some are small. Some are startling, while others are living works of art.
As you glance over these images, keep in mind the words of biochemist William H. Schlesinger who said, “Each species on our planet plays a role in the healthy functioning of natural ecosystems, on which humans depend.” Even though you may not have known that one or more of these species even existed, remember that your quality of life is dependent on theirs. Let that thought guide our actions in the year ahead. (Note: some of these species were first spotted in previous years, but because of the time and effort it takes to verify a new species, were only acknowledged as legitimate this year.)
1. Troyus turneri butterfly – Jamaica
Belonging to the family of skipper butterflies, the new genus and species is the first butterfly discovered in Jamaica since 1995. Scientists hope it will encourage conservation of the country’s last wilderness where it was discovered: the Cockpit Country. Measuring little more than 1 centimeter across, researchers say this tiny butterfly — named Troyus for the nearby town of Troy –underscores the need for further biodiversity research and establishing a baseline of organisms as more tropical areas suffer habitat destruction.
2. Sazima’s Tarantula – Brazil
This iridescent blue tarantula was technically discovered in 2011, but it’s listed among Arizona State University’s Top 10 New Species in 2012. Survival of tarantula species can be at risk due to loss of habitat and over-collecting for the pet trade. Although Pterinopelma sazimai is not the first blue tarantula, it is one of the most striking and may be especially vulnerable because of its limited distribution in an “ecological island” – a habitat high upon tabletop mountains which have a greater rainfall and different soils than the immediately surrounding area.
3. Coastal Skink – Australia
Discovered by researchers at Australian National University, the 6cm long Ctenotus ora, or the Coastal Plains Skink, only lives in the dunes along the Swan Coastal Plain between Dunsborough and Mandurah, south of Perth. Unfortunately, this exact area is already being developed for new residential housing, meaning that our relationship with this fascinating lizard could be quite short-lived. The species specializes in sand dunes, so it lacks the ability to move and adapt to a new habitat.
Image via Thinkstock
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