Every year, new species of plants and animals are discovered inhabiting the lesser-known corners of our planet. Emerging technologies and the increase of protected areas worldwide are giving scientists better access to these remote areas, leading to an increase in the number of species identified.
We are living in a "new age of discovery." Estimates place the total number of plant and animal species inhabiting the Earth to be anywhere from 10 to 50 million. Today, we’ve only identified 1.9 million species.
Here are some of the most interesting finds of the 21st century:
The harp sponge (Chondrocladia lyra) was discovered off the coast of Northern California in 2012. This deep sea sponge may look harmless, but they are actually skilled predators. These carnivorous sponges have been observed using the hook-like structures covering their long limbs to catch small crustaceans.
World’s Tiniest Vertebrate
Discovered in 2009, a frog species native to the island of New Guinea (Paedophryne amauensis) is currently considered to be the world’s smallest living vertebrate. The average length of a mature Paedophryne amauensis frog is only about 8 millimeters.
Photograph courtesy of Christopher Austin, Louisiana State University
The discovering scientists noted that these species were incredibly difficult to spot given their size and their ability to perfectly camouflage themselves among the forest floor’s leaf litter.
The Burrunan dolphin (Tursiops Australis) is a species of bottlenose dolphin native to the coastal waters of southeastern Australia. Discovered in 2011, this smaller species of porpoise is genetically similar to two other recognized species of bottlenose dolphins. Scientists noted in describing the species that Burrunan dolphins have a significantly curved dorsal fins, short beaks and a distinguished tricolor pattern.
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