Despite the challenges today’s world faces, Planet Earth is the gift that keeps on giving. That’s good news for scientists who relish the rush of discovery, as some think there are approximately 8.7 million species left to be found.
A recent article in Discover stated, “Throughout the past 250 years of scientific classification, biologists have discovered and described as many as 1.2 million separate plant and animal species. One commonly cited paper posits that around 86% of the planet’s plants and animals have yet to be formally classified, including about 91% of ocean species.”
New Species Discovered in the Past Year
Every year, approximately 18,000 new species are discovered, but we’ll respect your reading time and introduce you to just nine of our recent favorites. From the super-shiny leafhopper to a miniature fish, these elusive creatures are giving us hope for Earth’s biodiversity in the coming centuries.
Given that they’re new (to us) and shy, you probably won’t see these animals on Nat Hab trips, but the conservation travel you’re embarking on helps protect even the animals we don’t necessarily see.
Without further ado, our nine new species stars …
1. Tapir frog, Synapturanus danta
Claim to fame: Its “super” snout and shrill cry.
It was the strident call of the tapir frog (its distinctive snout and other characteristics are similar in appearance to the Amazonian tapir) that led researchers to catch several specimens of this new species. Discovered in the Amazonian peatland of the Putumayo Basin in Peru, the hard-to-find frogs are fossorial, which means they burrow beneath the forest floor. And they’re typically heard but not seen. Researchers kept hearing a sort of beeping noise from underground, leading them to suspect a new species of burrowing frog.
The very existence of the tiny tapir frog gives biologists hope for the Amazon region’s health and biodiversity.
“These frogs are really hard to find, and that leads to them being understudied,” says Michelle Thompson, a researcher in the Keller Science Action Center at Chicago’s Field Museum. “It’s an example of the Amazon’s hidden diversity.”
Discovered: In the Peruvian Amazon
Fun fact: Harry Potter fans on social media have started referring to the tapir frog as the “chocolate frog” for its similarity to the cocoa confection found in the Famous Witches and Wizards Cards traded by Hogwarts students.
Closest Nat Hab trip: The Great Amazon River Expedition
2. Spiny Lizard, Sceloporus huichol
Claim to fame: Discovered in a museum collection, not in the wild.
Not what you’d expect, right? Instead of an intrepid biologist bushwhacking through a forest in search of an elusive new lizard species, this discovery occured in a museum. According to Discover, “Scrutinizing specimens taken from nearly 10 separate scientific institutions, specialists identified a new species of spiny lizard, Sceloporus huichol.”
The specimens varied in color, genetics and habitat but are all categorized now as the Sceloperus huichol, taking the name from the indigenous tribe of the same name that resides in Central Mexico.
Discovered: In the forests of Central Mexico
Fun fact: The discovery of this new spiny lizard may lead to the finding of other new species in the Jalisco and Nayarit region of west-central Mexico. A new snake species was found there in 2007, and it’s thought that more undescribed species may be unearthed in this relatively unexplored region.
Closest Nat Hab trip: Kingdom of the Monarchs
3. Sponge Crab, Lamarckdromia beagle
Claim to fame: Fashion-forward appearance, with a “fluffy” coat and sea sponge beret.
Sponge crabs are well known to scientists for their crafty camouflage tactics: they “wear” sea sponges on their shells to hide from predators. According to an article in Discover, “Cloaked in ‘shaggy, surprisingly soft’ fur, scientists say that the fluffy coat of Lamarckdromia beagle could protect the species from predators as an added layer of camouflage.”
The crabs scuttle along the ocean floor, gathering sponges and sea squirts and holding them in place with tiny pincers on their hind legs (with a particular preference for those creatures that produce unpleasant chemicals).
It was a family enjoying the beach one day that discovered the crab, which they sent to the Western Australian Museum to be identified. This led researchers to take a closer look at crab specimens already housed at the museum, revealing that some of these were actually Lamarckdromia beagle, with the earliest dating back to 1925.
Discovered: Off the Denmark coast, Western Australia
Fun fact: The “beagle” in the name references the sponge crab’s tanned color, like the dog, as well as the HMS Beagle, on which Charles Darwin sailed.
Closest Nat Hab trip: Australia North: Kakadu, Daintree & the Great Barrier Reef
4. Southern maned sloth, Bradypus crinitus
Claim to fame: A sloth that was hiding in plain sight.
What was once thought to be one species of sloth lazing about the Brazilian forest actually turned out to be two separate species: one from the north and one from the south. The northern species was first discovered in 1811, while the flatter-skulled southern species was identified in September 2022. It’s not very often that scientiets identify a new mammalian species—it’s more typical that plants, invertebrates, fish or amphibians are discovered.
Both species are endemic to the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, with southern maned sloths found in Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo and northern maned sloths in Bahia and Sergipe.
Discovered: In the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, around Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo
Fun fact: The genus epithet “crinitus” comes from the Latin word for hair, perfectly describing this hairy mammal.
Closest Nat Hab trip: Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil’s Pantanal
5. Gecko, Lygodactylus fritzi
Claim to fame: One of eight new species of tiny geckos discovered in Madagascar.
Until recently, the Lygodactylus madagascariensis species group contained five species of dwarf geckoes residing in Madagascar’s humid forests. In 2022, scientists named eight new species of gecko, including this one, the Lygodactylus fritzi, all of which are considered endangered or critically endangered.
Madagascar is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, with a huge array of endemic plants, amphibians, reptiles and insects. The eight new gecko species join the ranks of the 150 new species of reptiles that have been named here in the last 30 years.
Discovered: In Madagascar
Fun fact: The L. fritzi is teensy, measuring 53 mm from snout to the tip of its tail.
Closest Nat Hab trip: Madagascar Wildlife Adventure
6. Tapir Valley Tree Frog, Tialocohyla celeste
Claim to fame: Tremendous vocal cords.
This brilliantly green frog was discovered on the rewilded Tapir Valley Nature Reserve in Costa Rica—a former cattle ranch restored by Donald Valera Soto. Amongst the Baird’s tapirs, peccaries and jaguars that reside there, this tiny frog —just 2 cm long—was found among the tall grasses of the reserve, first detected by its shrill call that stood out from the vocalizations of other hylid frog species.
“It was calling very differently than anything else that I had seen or heard at our reserve,” says Soto. “I listened to this little frog but it was almost impossible to find it, it was so well camouflaged.”
Discovered: In northern Costa Rica
Fun fact: From Soto to Esteban Brenes-Mora, director of Costa Rica Wildlife Foundation, to herpetologists Twan Leenders and Juan Gabriel Abarca, the Tapir Valley tree frog discovery is an excellent example of what can happen through an interdisciplinary approach and shared knowledge from members of the local community.
Closest Nat Hab trip: Costa Rica Wilderness Explorer
7. Jiangxi giant salamander, Andrias jiangxiensis
Claim to fame: Exists outside salamander-breeding farms.
The impressive Chinese giant salamander can reach nearly 6.5 feet in length. If it wasn’t so elusive and rare, you couldn’t miss it! A 2018 study predicted there to be at least five distinct species of the Chinese giant salamander. In 2019, the largest amphibian in the world, the South China giant salamander, was identified. Last year, in May 2022, another species came on the scene: the Jiangxi giant salamander.
Discovered in the province for which it was named, the Jiangxi species differs from its cousins in that it has a genetically pure wild population. Most wild giant salamanders within the country have been released from salamander-breeding farms. Although the Jiangxi is present in two small farms, it also has a wild population in Jiulingshan National Nature Reserve. It’s considered a critically endangered species due to this limited distribution and the salamander’s vulnerability to climate changes.
Discovered: In China’s Jiangxi Province
Fun fact: The Chinese giant salamander is referred to as a “living fossil,” having been around for at least 165 million years.
Closest Nat Hab trip: Wild China Panda Tour
8. Leafhopper, Phlogis kibalensis
Claim to fame: Its distinctive, metallic sheen.
Move over, primates, the leafhopper is stealing the show in Uganda’s Kibale National Park. OK, well, maybe not the whole show, but this eye-catching insect plays a solid supporting role.
The leafhopper belongs to the rare genus Phlogis, from which an individual species hadn’t been recorded for more than half a decade. The recently discovered leafhopper—found by an entomologist who was documenting insects of the national park for field guides—is now considered part of the “true bugs” order, or Hemiptera. (Although there is still much to be learned about its ecology, this is one new species you could see on a Nat Hab trip!)
Discovered: In Kibale National Park, Uganda
Fun fact: Leafhoppers are related to cicadas, but smaller and more colorful.
Closest Nat Hab trip: The Great Africa Primate Expedition (including Kibale National Park)
9. Fish, Poecilocharax callipers and P. rhizophilus
Claim to fame: One of these little swimmers measures less than an inch long when fully mature.
These tiny fish have been swimming under the radar long enough: Enter the newly discovered, red-orange Poecilocharax and the amber-yellow, miniature fish, P. rhizohilus. Sadly, just as quickly as they were identified, it became apparent that both fish are at risk for extinction. (The Poecilocharax, in particular, has a limited habitat of roughly 1.5 square miles.)
The fish were discovered by Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural history researcher Murilo Pastana and his colleagues in an area where humans are increasingly encroaching upon the Amazon rainforest.
“It was exciting to find new species,” Pastana said. “But in the field, we saw the forest on fire, logging trucks carrying out huge trees, and cleared patches turned into cattle pasture. This made us feel a lot of urgency to document these species and publish this paper as quickly as possible.”
Discovered: In Brazil’s Apuí region, at the edges of the Amazon rainforest
Fun fact: These fish like dark water. The Poecilocharax is found in black-water streams, so named for the tannins that darkly stain the waters, while the P. rhizophilus prefers muddy waters near tree roots.
Closest Nat Hab trip: Jaguars & Wildlife of Brazil’s Pantanal
More New and Rediscovered Species
Every new species discovered is a win for Earth’s biodiversity. World Wildlife Fund report a 69% average decline in wildlife population since 1970, so we’ll take every new life form we can get.
It’s places as biodiverse as the Great Mekong region that fill our nature-loving hearts with promise. In recent years, according to WWF, there were 224 plant and vertebrate animal species discovered within the diverse landscapes of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
What’s more, there is a growing number of rediscovered species. Read about the ambitious “Re:wild: The Search for Lost Species” endeavor, through which scientists around the world are seeking plants, animals and fungi that have been lost to science for at least a decade (and sometimes much, much longer).