The world is so abundant with strange species, scientists describe new ones every year. Here at Popular Science, we picked a few of our favorites from this year to share. This is a small fraction of the species scientists name in a year. Just today, the California Academy of Sciences reported its biologists named 221 new plants and animals in 2014, and of course, other universities and groups make their own discoveries.
Big ‘n’ Slimy
A Tasmanian family found this giant, “snotty”-textured jellyfish while walking on the beach. They sent a picture over to Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, where jellyfish researcher Lisa-ann Gershwin had been trying to get enough samples to name the jelly a new species. This family-discovered specimen was Gershwin’s third and the largest she had seen. We found no evidence Gershwin has yet been able to declare the giant jelly a new species, but we’re looking forward to it.
Elusive River Sirens
In January 2014, a team of biologists reported they’d discovered what they think is a new species of river dolphin in the Araguaia River in Brazil. River dolphins are rare—there are only four known species in the world—and they’re highly endangered, so it’s a feat to find a new one. It’s still unclear if the dolphin is truly a separate species from dolphins in the Amazon River basin, however. The Society for Marine Mammalogy decided in October that there wasn’t enough genetic data to show Araguaia River dolphins are a separate species. The Brazilian biologists who had analyzed the dolphins didn’t want to kill any animals for their study, so they only gathered DNA from one already-dead dolphin and old samples stored in museums. The photo shows an Amazon River dolphin of an unknown species, held by the Duisburg Zoo in Germany.
Yowch. Supersonus, a newly discovered genus of katydids, includes three species that sing at the highest known frequencies of any known insect, spider, or other arthropod. Male katydids sing to attract female katydids, but at these frequencies, they would be difficult for other species to hear. That’s a good thing. Researchers think the high frequencies likely help Supersonus katydids from being overheard by predatory bats.
Hey there, little guy. This is a round-eared sengi, or elephant shrew, that lives in southwestern Africa. A team of researchers from California and Namibia declared in June that it was a new species, Macroscelides micus. Strangely enough, Macroscelides micus is actually more closely related to elephants than it is to true shrews. It belongs to an animal grouping called Afrotheria, which includes a number of animals thought to have evolved in Africa, including aarvarks and manatees, in addition to elephants.
This beautiful creature is a bat that lives in the savanna in Bolivia. It was previously considered a Myotis simus, or velvety Myotis. This year, however, it got its own species name, Myotis midastactus. The new name harkens to the mythical King Midas who wished everything he touched could turn to gold.
This creepy sea slug lives offshore of islands belonging to Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia. It lives on coral, which it probably eats, but scientists haven’t yet seen it feeding. Its scientific name is Phyllodesmium undulatum, so named for its undulating gut, which you can see as squiggly white lines inside its translucent body.