A male green honeycreeper is bright blue with a black hood on his head. The bird is called a “green honeycreeper” because females and young birds are bright green.

Living in a time of almost daily extinction news, we can’t help but feel a little skip in our hearts when we hear of animal species or acres of forests that have newly been found. Anything to tip the scales back to the heavy side of biodiversity is more than fine in my book.

One of those just-identified species is an iguana, called Wang’s garden lizard. This reptile lives in southern China and northern Vietnam. Part of the Calotes versicolor complex of species, these diminutive animals have orange tongues and inhabit subtropical and tropical forests. They can thrive in various landscapes, including urban areas. And, in Columbia, South America, a striking and extremely rare, half-female, half-male bird has recently been spotted.

But a local population or a singular animal aren’t the only new finds. In Bolivia’s Madidi National Park and Natural Area for Integrated Management, the number of recorded fish species has recently been doubled to a staggering 333—with as many as 35 of them new to science. And through satellite imaging and an artificial-intelligence-driven mapping of biomass and CO2 storage across Europe, it’s been shown that a huge number of trees have been overlooked in the region’s agricultural, rural and urban areas that equal a billion tons of formerly “hidden” biomass.


“Calotes versicolor”—often called the oriental garden lizard—is found widely throughout the Indo-Malayan region and has been introduced in many other parts of the world. A population of “Calotes versicolor” living in southern China and northern Vietnam has now been found to be a new species with two subspecies.

New reptile on the block and a previously unheard-of bird

In December 2023, a new iguana joined Asia’s rich reptile fauna when it was officially described as new to science in the journal ZooKeys.  

From 2009 to 2022, researchers conducted a series of field surveys in southern China and collected several specimens of oriental garden lizards. They discovered that the population of what they thought was Calotes versicolor in that area and in northern Vietnam was a new, undescribed species and two subspecies.

The new species, named Wang’s garden lizard (Calotes wangi), is less than 3.5 inches long and is distinguished by its orange tongue. The lizard is found in subtropical, broad-leaved, evergreen forests and tropical monsoon forests. It likes arable lands, hills and plains on forest edges, mountainous areas, shrublands and even urban greenbelts. When the animal is in danger, it climbs tree trunks or rushes into bushes to hide. The lizards eat a variety of insects, spiders and other arthropods; and at night, they sleep on sloping, shrub branches.


Due to its great diversity of habitats—from riverbeds to mountain peaks—Bolivia’s Madidi National Park and Natural Area for Integrated Management is considered the most biodiverse protected area on the planet.

Currently, the researchers think that the new species is not threatened, but they do note that in some areas its habitat is fragmented. In addition, people use the lizards’ bodies for foods and medicines. That’s why the scientists suggest that local governments strengthen protections for these animals’ ecological environments and pay close attention to the population’s dynamics.

Continents away, in South America, an extremely rare bird that is half female and half male was spotted by a zoologist from the University of Otago, New Zealand. While he was vacationing in Colombia, the zoologist and an amateur ornithologist observed a wild green honeycreeper with distinct half green (or female) and half blue (or male) plumage.

Publishing a report on this find in the Journal of Field Ornithology—only the second recorded example of gynandromorphism observed in the species in more than 100 years—the zoologist notes that many bird-watchers go their entire lives and not see a bilateral gynandromorph in any kind of bird. In fact, he writes, he knows of no known examples from New Zealand. “I was very privileged to see it,” he adds.


New Zealand is full of birdlife, such as this tui, but there has never been a sighting of a bilateral gynandromorph in any avian species there. The phenomenon is extremely rare in birds.

Gynandromorphs—animals with both male and female characteristics in a species that usually has separate sexes—are important for our understanding of sex determination and sexual behavior in birds. The main groups in which the phenomenon has been recorded include animal species which feature strong sexual dimorphism; most often crustaceans, insects (especially butterflies), lizards, rodents and spiders. The phenomenon arises from an error during female cell division to produce an egg, followed by double-fertilization by two sperm.

The photographs taken of the bird make the discovery even more significant, as they are arguably the best of a wild, bilateral gynandromorphic bird of any species. This particular example of bilateral gynandromorphy—male one side and female the other—shows that, as in several other species, either side of the bird can be male or female.

The zoologist hopes the novel discovery will inspire people to always be on the lookout for oddities and to “treasure the exceptions,” as they will likely reveal something fascinating.


As an ecosystem, the Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. More than 3 million species live in the rain forest, and more than 2,500 kinds of trees (or a third of all tropical trees that exist) help to create and sustain this vibrant place.

“Barrels” of fish species found in Bolivia

While those individual finds are cause for celebration, there’s another new animal-related discovery, and it numbers in the hundreds.

Bolivia’s Madidi National Park and Natural Area for Integrated Management is probably the world’s most biologically diverse protected area due to a unique altitudinal gradient of almost 20,000 feet that spans the Tropical Andes and the Amazon. And the number of fish species recorded there has recently doubled to a staggering 333—with as many as 35 species new to science—according to a study conducted as part of the Identidad Madidi Expedition led by the Wildlife Conservation Society. The results are described in a 2022 issue of Neotropical Hydrobiology and Aquatic Conservation.

For four years between 2015 and 2018, specialists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and colleagues from museums and universities in Bolivia and France conducted extensive fish sampling at 13 sites in Madidi National Park using different techniques: electrofishing, gill nets, hook and line, trawls and ichthyoplankton (fish) nets. A total of 333 species distributed in 43 families and 13 orders were recorded. This number doubles the previously known ichthyofauna (161) in Madidi.


A cousin to the African tiger fish and piranha, the golden dorado’s coloring explains the name: the entire fish is a bright yellow-gold. This tropical fish is found in rivers in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The study lists the fish species whose presence in Madidi has been confirmed, including those recorded during the Identidad Madidi Expedition, and a compilation of species occurrences listed in previous studies to provide an estimate of the total ichthyological richness for this protected area.

Species range in size from the invasive arapaima (Arapaima gigas), a mouth-breathing giant weighing in at more than 440 pounds and more than 10 feet long, to the seasonally abundant killifish (Anablepsoides beniensis) from the Rivulidae family found in pools in natural savannas that are just 0.6 inches long. The list also includes the most attractive game fish from the Amazon, the golden dorado (Salminus brasiliensis), as well as migratory catfish, such as the Amazonian goliath catfish (Brachyplatystoma filamentosum) and the tiny chipi chipi pencil catfish (Trichomycterus barbouri), whose massive collective migration is a local phenomenon.

Another killifish (Orestias sp.) is found in some of the highest Andean lakes at 14,000 feet in Madidi; while in the stagnant ponds of the Amazon, electric knife fish (Gymnotus carapo) and the swamp eel (Synbranchus madeirae) were located. In the fast-flowing streams of the Amazon headwaters, several species of naked catfish (Astroblepus sp.)—including probable several new species for science—swam.


Using local fishing techniques to catch piranhas in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park and Natural Area for Integrated Management is a popular activity for visitors.

The specialists say that with encompassing 7,320 square miles, Madidi covers 1.3% of the Madeira River Basin, but conserves 25% of the known species in the basin. Also, Madidi represents only 1.8% of Bolivia, but it holds almost 40% of the ichthyofauna recorded in the country.

They conclude that this study has more than doubled the knowledge about fish diversity in this incredible protected area; but with several sub-basins yet to sample in the park, this is only the beginning.

Trees by the billion tons of biomass

And while fish by the hundreds are impressive, trees by the billions of tons of biomass are astonishing. Trees isolate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, benefit wildlife and biodiversity, and make us humans happy and healthy.


Trees provide us with a myriad of services: they isolate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, benefit biodiversity and wildlife, help to keep us healthy and make us feel happy.

Forests, however, aren’t the only places where foliage enriches the planet. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have trees in your backyard, outside your window or in a nearby park. But until now, we haven’t been able to account for all the many trees not in forests, according to new research from scientists at Denmark’s University of Copenhagen that was published in the scientific journal Science Advances in September 2023.

Using data from national inventories and other sources that divide countries into forest, rural and urban areas, the researchers designed a deep-learning algorithm that could recognize trees nine feet high and taller. The researchers fed the algorithm detailed satellite imagery of Europe as a whole, which was used to calculate the amount of tree cover outside of forested areas in each country with, they say, a precision of 92.4%. Mappings with this level of detail had never before been possible. These trees are not typically counted in national forest inventories, and it marks an advance that will make it easier to monitor forests and biomass in the future.

The survey showed 37 million acres of tree coverage outside of forested areas across the continent. This corresponds to a billion tons of hidden biomass in rural and urban areas that are used for agriculture or other purposes that can now be included in various models and statistics.


In Denmark, there are more than 20,000 pieces of forested land. So, a manual measurement of biomass here is a massive task. But using an advanced combination of satellite imagery and artificial intelligence makes it possible to conduct more frequent and rapid monitoring.

For example, say the researchers, there are a great many trees in cities and holiday home areas that aren’t included when national inventories of forest resources are compiled. This study shows that there is hidden potential in relation to carbon storage beyond forests that ought to be included in climate models and biomass inventories.

Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have the highest percentage of tree cover outside forest areas. The Netherlands takes first place with nearly 25%; 8% of which grows in cities. In the United Kingdom, 22% of the country’s tree cover is outside forests; and for Ireland, the amount is slightly less than 20%. For forest-rich countries, the proportion of tree cover outside forest areas is significantly smaller. For example, just under 2% of Finland’s total tree cover is found outside the forests.

In European countries with many large, forested areas, trees outside forests don’t make much of a difference. But in countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Ireland—whose forest resources are not enormous—these trees play an important role in biodiversity, habitats, hydrological cycles, landscape values and microclimates.


Discovering that a billion tons of biomass in trees—such as these in Switzerland—has been previously overlooked in Europe’s agricultural, rural and urban areas is a bonus for the planet.

Hope, one flickering moment at a time

The sixth mass extinction and increasing biodiversity loss are real, and they’re going on right now. But once in a great while, small shafts of light shine through—whether they arrive on a feather, a fish scale or a leaf.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,