20 Of The Most Fascinating Species Discovered In 2023

These days, most news about Earth's biodiversity is a real bummer. For example, a 2022 report published by the World Wildlife Fund found that animal populations across the globe have decreased by a catastrophic 69% between 1970 and 2018, primarily due to human-caused factors like habitat loss and climate change. And things aren't exactly on an upward trend. According to a 2023 study published in Biological Reviews, 48% of over 70,000 animal species surveyed are on a downward trajectory.

Birds, insects, mammals, and amphibians are especially impacted, with continued population declines prompting many biologists to announce the arrival of a sixth mass extinction event – this time due to what the study calls "Anthropocene defaunation," which is a fancy way of saying human activity is responsible for all this destruction. Plants and fungi – the foundation of all life on Earth – are also being lost at alarming rates. As a 2020 report by Kew Royal Botanic Gardens noted, 40% of plant species face extinction. And these are just the ones we know about!

Luckily, it's not all bad news. Scientists estimate that about 10% to 20% of Earth's species remain undiscovered. Diligent biologists working across the globe discover up to 18,000 new species each year, which opens doors for targeted conservation efforts and habitat preservation. From brand-new mammals to carnivorous plants to insects exhibiting previously unseen behaviors, there's plenty of proof that nature can still surprise us. Here are just a few of the most fascinating species discovered in 2023.

Eastern Mindanao gymnure

When it comes to the animal kingdom, mammals are pretty well-documented. But that doesn't mean there aren't a few unknown species lurking out there – especially in the world's most remote, unexplored places. According to a 2023 study published in Zootaxa, after surveying one such place – the isolated rainforest mountains of eastern Mindanao in the Philippines – biologists found an undescribed species of gymnure. What's a gymnure, you ask? It's a small long-nosed mammal that looks like a shrew but is actually more closely related to hedgehogs and moonrats.

Also called soft-furred hedgehogs, gymnures use their long snouts to probe the forest floor for their preferred prey: earthworms, insects, and other small critters. Biologists found that this new golden-streaked species, Podogymnura intermedia, hangs out on only two mountains: Mount Kampalili and Mount Hamiguitan. They suspect that a closely related species traveled to the island of Mindanao from Borneo around 2 to 3.5 million years ago, eventually evolving into the four species of Podogymnura known today.

Curiously, the two populations of eastern Mindanao gymnures differ slightly, with those living on Mount Kampalili having softer fur. It's possible that these, too, may someday evolve into two different species. "One of the highly distinct things about the Phillippines is that every isolated mountain ... has several species that occur nowhere else – not even on adjacent mountain ranges on the same island," one of the study's authors, Laurence Heanery, told BBC Wildlife Magazine. "If you don't go look, you don't know what is there."

Note: A different species of gymnure is pictured.

Río Negro stream treefrog

Of all the animals impacted by man, amphibians have it the worst. According to a 2017 study published in Climate Change Responses, they are especially susceptible to habitat loss, increased ultraviolet radiation due to ozone depletion, diseases, environmental pollutants, and acid rain – all of which are attributable to human activities. This makes the discovery of a new frog species even more exciting – and critical for its conservation.

The frog in question also happens to be quite a stunner. According to a 2023 study published in ZooKeys, biologists found the frog during a survey of the tropical forests of Río Negro-Sopladora National Park in southern Ecuador's Andes Mountains. They were so taken by the relatively large treefrog's bright colors and speckles that they named it Hyloscirtus tolkieini after renowned fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien, writing: "The amazing colors of the new species evoke the magnificent creatures that seem to only exist in fantasy worlds."

The species was described based on a single specimen, meaning additional research is needed to determine its conservation status. Luckily, the frog's habitat is safe for the time being, as the over 75,000-acre Río Negro-Sopladora National Park was designated a protected area in 2018. Sticking to the magical theme, one of the study's authors, Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia, said in a statement (via Mongabay): "The truth is that the tropical Andes are true magical ecosystems where some of the most wonderful species of flora, fungi, and fauna in the world are present."

[Featured image by Juan C. Sánchez-Nivicela via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC-BY-4.0]

Hachijojima ladies' tresses orchid

Biologists don't always have to travel to Earth's most remote places to find new species. According to a 2023 study published in the Journal of Plant Research, Japanese botanists discovered a new species of orchid growing in urban areas around Tokyo — that's right, it was hiding within a huge city. As it happens, Spiranthes hachijoensis was found growing in parks, planters, lawns, and gardens – essentially hiding in plain sight.

Like all orchids of the genus Spiranthes – commonly known as ladies' tresses orchids – it's a beautiful plant, named for its long, spiraled flower stalks that look like flowing locks of hair. This species also has tiny bell-shaped pinkish-purple and white flowers that reminded the researchers of intricate glass sculptures. You could definitely envision a fairy sipping out of one. Ladies' tresses orchids are a pretty common sight in Japan, but it turned out that what everyone assumed was just one species was actually two.

After analyzing its floral structures, evaluating its DNA, and observing when it flowered, the researchers realized that this plant blooming all around town was actually a new – and less abundant – species, a revelation that came with an important lesson. "The discovery of this new species hiding in mundane places demonstrates the need for persistent exploration even in seemingly unremarkable places," the study's lead researcher, Kenji Suetsugu, told Popular Science. "I think it's a discovery that reminds us that there is still an unknown world in nature that we come into contact with on a daily basis."

Lavender-blushed dartfish

In some cases, discovering a new species doesn't even involve leaving the house – or museum, as it were. Plenty of species are hiding out in existing collections and databases, just waiting to be found. As noted in a 2023 study published in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Australian taxonomists found a whole new fish that way – and they didn't even need diving gear or a submarine to do it. After poring over museum specimens, reviewing underwater photographs, and performing some genetic analysis, they discovered that what was originally thought to be a single species of brightly colored dartfish was actually two, one of which hadn't been described before.

Upon closer examination, biologists realized that some fish had completely different colors and markings than the known species, the Helfrich's dartfish. For one, they didn't have a scowly dark mustache. The new species, an adorable little creature sporting a purple crown and bright yellow face, lives in coral reefs in the western and central Pacific Ocean. Due to its striking coloration, biologists named it Nemateleotris lavandula: the lavender-blushed dartfish.

Splitting one species into two has significant conservation implications. "Without careful taxonomy, we would have never known that there were two species hidden under one name," lead researcher Yi-Kai Tea told Newsweek. "Now that we do, we can re-assess their distributions, their statuses, and where to go from here. Putting a name to something is the first and most important step towards conservation. You cannot protect what we don't know exists."

Sauron butterflies

For some taxonomists, discovering one new species just isn't enough. And for those intrepid souls, the abundant insect kingdom awaits. According to a 2023 study published in Systematic Entomology, one international research team set out to make sense of a giant grouping of Neotropical butterflies called the Euptychiina tribe. Though the tribe contains over 400 known species, it is often overlooked in favor of more charismatic butterflies. You see, Euptychiina butterflies are kind of boring. They're pretty small and most are predominantly a drab brown in color.

Diligent researchers across the globe spent a decade studying around 5.5 million collected Euptychiina specimens, carefully extracting DNA from the insects and using advanced genetic techniques to analyze taxonomic relationships. And what did they get for all their trouble? Several new genera and many new species. The researchers were especially taken with one new genus, which they named Saurona after fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien's famous "Lord of the Rings" villain.

Both Saurona species feature bright orange and black eyespots on their hindwings, which, after hours in a lab, could start evoking images of the fire-rimmed Eye of Sauron. But the name wasn't chosen just for fun. "Butterflies are under enormous pressure from habitat loss, and we desperately need to identify and study new species before time runs out for them," researcher Blanca Huertas explained to The Guardian. "By giving them unusual names, we can bring attention to what is happening to butterflies, which are in real trouble across the world today."

[Featured image by Espeland, M., Et al. via Systematic Entomology | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 4.0 ]

Deep-sea squat lobsters

While the name "squat lobster" might not equal "fascinating" in most peoples' minds, these little crustaceans are actually pretty impressive. They are extremely diverse, with many living in the abyssal deep sea, a high-pressure, pitch-black, and generally mysterious realm that occurs 9,842 to 22,325 feet below the surface. Even in modern times, the deep ocean remains largely unstudied due to its extreme inaccessibility. So, how do biologists discover new squat lobsters?

According to a 2023 study published in Invertebrate Systematics, they were collected by the human-operated submersible vehicle, Alvin, famous for exploring the Titanic. Alvin features suction devices and robotic arms, allowing it to gather samples. Amazingly, the creatures were captured alive, enabling biologists to photograph, study, and harvest DNA from them. Overall, the effort resulted in five new species of squat lobster of the genus Munidopsis – including one that was collected way back in 1990.

Squat lobsters are close relatives of hermit crabs named for their tucked-under tails, which give them a compact folded-up shape. They frequently hang out around hydrothermal vents, cold-water reefs, and "whale falls" – or sunken whale carcasses – at great depths. "We still do not know how many species live in our world, especially marine invertebrates living in the deep sea," lead researcher Paula Rodríguez-Flores told Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. "We need to continue to explore the deep ocean, collecting more specimens, to have a complete picture of the distribution range and evolution of animals in the abyss before they disappear."

Note: A different species of Munidopsid squat lobster is pictured.

DiCaprio's snail-eating snake

Sadly, some species are already facing extinction upon their discovery. As researchers noted in a 2023 study published in ZooKeys, all five of the snail-eating snake species they found in the tropics of Panama, Ecuador, and Colombia were in trouble. And, oddly enough, COVID-19 is partially to blame. Economic struggles during the pandemic drove many people to take up illegal gold and copper mining, creating large barren pits along forest waterways and polluting streams and rivers. Large sections of rainforest are also being cleared to build infrastructure for workers and equipment, making a bad situation worse. And it's still happening.

While this disruption harms countless plants and animals, snail-eating snakes have a particularly rough time because they live in trees and feed on snails and slugs, which can only survive in wet toxin-free environments. "These [snake] species are delicate and used to living in very humid parts of the forest," one of the study's researchers, Abel Batista, told Mongabay. "Once we open the forest, if they don't have a place to go, they just die."

To help draw attention to the snakes' urgent plight, the researchers enlisted the aid of actor and conservationist Leonardo DiCaprio, who helped name three of the small brightly colored snakes. He named the rarest one, Sibon irmelindicaprioae, after his mother, Irmelin DiCaprio. As study researcher Alejandro Arteaga explained to Mongabay: "Both legal and illegal open-pit mines are uninhabitable for the snail-eating snakes – and most everything else that lives there, too."

[Featured image by A. Arteaga and A. Batistavia via ZooKeys 1143 | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 4.0 ]

Ophelia's mushroom

Sometimes, species remain undiscovered simply because no one goes looking for them. Such was the case when a microbiologist named Breyton Van der Merwe happened upon an unusual white mushroom while on a January stroll in the temperate forests of South Africa. Even wilder? He was just a student at the time. According to a 2023 study published in Mycology, Van der Merwe had found a new species of mushroom in the genus Hericium – only the second such fungus known to exist in Africa.

Researchers named the new mushroom Hericium ophelieae after Arthur Rimbaud's French poem "Ophélie," which depicts the death of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" character Ophelia. Rimbaud's elegiac lines like "long veils," "beautiful as snow," and "white phantom" perfectly described the ghostly mushroom's wispy fruiting body, which grows only on the decaying trunks of a few hardwood tree species in South Africa's Knysna-Amatole forests during the rainy season. And, while that's plenty exciting all on its own, the discovery has even greater implications.

Hericium mushrooms have long been prized for their medicinal and nutritional uses. In fact, one species – the lion's mane mushroom – has been used as both food and traditional medicine in China for centuries. As Breyton Van der Merwe, the researcher credited with discovering the mushroom, told McClatchy News (view Yahoo!): "Several unique medicinal compounds have been described from Hericium species, and these compounds have been used in studies as treatments for everything from neuropsychiatric disorders like depression, to cancer, and even anti-aging treatments."

[Featured image by T. Conradie and B. Van der Merwe via Mycology | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 4.0 ]

Srini's bent-winged bat

Owing to their mostly-nocturnal lifestyles and habit of hanging out in hard-to-reach places like caves, bats can be pretty hard to study – and that makes finding a new one even more exciting. Zoologist Bhargavi Srinivasulu and her equally academic son, Ph.D. researcher Aditya Srinivasulu, found some small bats while exploring an underground cave located deep in the dense jungles of the Western Ghats – an understudied mountain range in southwestern India.

According to her study, published in Zootaxa in 2023, the bats found in the cave were superficially pretty similar to an existing species of bent-winged bat, but further analysis of their echolocation calls, anatomical measurements, and genetics revealed that they were actually a different species. Bent-winged bats are named for the way they fold their extremely long wings when resting. They roost in colonies several hundred strong by day, emerging at dusk to feast on flying insects like moths. All in all, describing the new "cryptic species" – so-named for the fact that it looks almost identical to another species but is genetically quite distinct – took around six years.

With the publication of the study, Dr. Bhargavi Srinivasulu received the honor of having the species, Miniopterus srinii or Srini's bent-winged bat, named after her. "Our research on Andaman bats revealed that the fauna on the islands are genetically different from those on mainland India," she told the Deccan Chronicle. "In India, four species of bent-winged bats are known. With our discovery, the number has increased to five."

Note: A different species of bent-winged bat is pictured.

Malagasy kite spider

Some of the coolest new species are found completely by accident. While studying a different species of spider in Madagascar, researchers happened upon a bizarre scene: a bunch of male spiders sharing a web and hanging out together. According to their 2023 study published in Insect Systematics and Diversity, the researchers first spotted the spider gatherings from a moving car and immediately jumped out to investigate.

The gregarious arachnids turned out to be a type of box kite spider, which are small web-spinning spiders known for their square backs, bright colors, and spiny protuberances. And not only were they a new species – Isoxya manangona – but their behavior was totally unusual for spiders. The researchers observed 22 different "colonies," each featuring up to 21 individual female webs connected like a spider sorority. In the middle of the network was a single line of web, on which up to 38 males perched together.

Even stranger, the males weren't being aggressive toward each other – something practically unheard of in the spider world, which is typically solitary at best, and, at worst, cannibalistic. In fact, out of around 50,000 known spider species, less than 0.1% are social. Researchers believe that the unusual behavior is a form of lekking, in which male animals gather to display for females. If proven, this will be the first time lekking has ever been documented in spiders. As lead researcher Igni Agnarsson told Entomology Today: "Further research is necessary but is bound to find something fascinating."

Note: A different species of box kite spider is pictured.

Australian demon catshark

Biologists have long suspected that there was an undiscovered species of demon catshark lurking off the coast of Western Australia, but they never had quite enough information to solve the puzzle – until very recently. According to a 2023 study published in the Journal of Fish Biology, the first evidence of the mysterious shark came in the form of an egg case found decades ago.

Shark egg cases, sometimes called "mermaid's purses," come in a variety of shapes and sizes and usually feature stringy tendrils that help anchor them, allowing the young sharks within to hatch in ideal environments. In the case of this shark, researchers only had two uniquely ridged egg cases to work with – one found back in 1989 and another in 2011 – and they didn't match those of any known species. So, in order to solve the mystery, they had to get creative.

Biologists performed surgery on a misidentified pregnant museum specimen. Inside, they found an egg case that matched the two previously collected, confirming that this was, indeed, a new species. The new demon catshark, which they named Apristurus ovicorrugatus, has unusual glowing white eyes that give it an ominous look. It lives at depths of over 2,200 feet and researchers believe that it lays its eggs on coral. "We just know very little about deepwater fauna in Australia," lead researcher Will White told ABC News. "As more deepwater surveys continue, I think we'll uncover more species records – there's still a lot to come."

Note: A different species of catshark is pictured.

Carnivorous butterwort plants

What's even more fascinating than carnivorous plants? New-to-science carnivorous plants. And there's good news: botanists have found not one but two new species of butterwort! According to a 2023 study published in PhytoKeys, both species were discovered high in the tropical Andes Mountains of southern Ecuador. One, Pinguicula jimburensis, lives on the marshy shores of a highland lagoon while the other, Pinguicula ombrophila, lives on steep limestone cliff faces.

Unlike most plants, butterworts thrive in harsh environments with nutrient-poor soil. For these plants, it's "no nutrients, no problem" as they extract everything they need from their insect prey, which they trap on their sticky basal leaves. They also produce attractive two-lipped flowers on raised stalks, which have made a few species popular in the horticultural trade. Both new butterwort species rely on wet environments, deriving moisture from both rainfall and fog. In fact, one of them – Pinguicula ombrophila – is even named for it, with its specific epithet "ombrophila" translating to "rain-loving" in Latin.

Because of this – and the fact that each is known from only a single location – both species are more sensitive to environmental disturbance, habitat loss, and climate change and are already considered at risk of extinction. "Even in well-known groups such as the carnivorous plants, new taxa are continuously discovered and described, in particular from remote areas that become accessible in the course of the unlimited urban sprawl," the researchers wrote in the study. "This is both encouraging and worrying at the same time."

[Featured image by Álvaro J. Pérez via PhytoKeys | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 4.0 ]

Australian assassin bug

Discovering a new bug species is pretty cool, but discovering a new bug behavior is even cooler. And, believe it or not, researchers in Australia did both this year. According to a 2023 study published in Biology Letters, it all started when ecologist Fernando Soley noticed an insect covered in resin while walking through a Western Australian savanna. Upon closer inspection, the insect – a type of assassin bug – seemed to be intentionally applying the resin to its front forelegs with all the gusto of a beach-goer putting on sunblock.

Intrigued, Soley set out to test his theory that the insects were using sticky resin from spinifex grass to catch prey. You see, assassin bugs are aptly named. They are sit-and-wait predators that rely on stealth and camouflage to catch their unsuspecting insect victims. Soley's hypothesis that the resin helped them turned out to be true, with resin-coated bugs catching more insects than their scrubbed counterparts. The resin, therefore, served as a tool to catch prey.

Tool use is often regarded as an indicator of intelligence typically found only in mammals and birds. And, while Soley's research noted that the assassin bugs used resin instinctively, it's still pretty neat to see an insect employing such an effective hunting strategy. What's more, the assassin bug in question turned out to be a new species. "The resin clearly functions as a tool," lead researcher Fernando Soley told PNAS, adding, "I don't want to exaggerate and say that they are smart."

Note: A different species of assassin bug is pictured.

Mizoram parachute gecko

Typically, far fewer vertebrates are discovered each year than, say, insects or plants. But geckos are the exception. In fact, 28 new geckos were described in a single paper in 2022. While many gecko species have already been discovered in 2023, this one might just be the most fascinating because, well, it can fly – kind of. As announced in a 2023 study published in Salamandra, researchers found a new species of parachute gecko in the Indian state of Mizoram.

Like others in this unique lizard group, which are also called flying geckos, Gekko mizoramensis is a nocturnal lizard that uses flaps of body skin to "fall with style" – sometimes for distances of up to 200 feet – to both escape predators and glide from tree to tree in its tropical forest home. At around eight inches long, it's pretty noticeable – especially when it ventures into urban areas and lands on the side of buildings.

As is often the case in nature, the new gecko hid in plain sight for years because it looked nearly identical to another flying gecko, making it what biologists call a "cryptic species." But, after analyzing the lizard's DNA, researchers confirmed that it was genetically distinct. Because its full range is still unknown, protecting what could be a rare species is vital. "There is a lot of superstition and mythological belief in Mizoram," lead researcher Hmar Tlawmte Lalremsanga told India Today. "The people here usually hunt so it is very important to spread awareness."

Note: A different species of parachute gecko is pictured.

Mai Po box jellyfish

Box jellyfish – also known as sea wasps – are well known for their potent venom. In fact, one species, the Australian box jellyfish, is considered the most dangerous marine animal in the world. And now, according to a 2023 study published in Zoological Studies, biologists have discovered a new box jelly swimming among the mangroves in Hong Kong's Mai Po Nature Reserve. Because it was repeatedly collected in the brackish area's intertidal shrimp ponds, it likely also lives in the adjacent Pearl River Estuary.

Tripedalia maipoensis is the first box jellyfish ever discovered in China. Like all box jellies of its genus, it has a transparent cube-shaped body and paddle-shaped tentacles that allow it to swim faster than other jellies. It also has an array of 24 eyes, which occur in clusters of six. In each grouping, two eyes are able to resolve images while four can only sense light. The species is unique for its body's forked water canals, which it uses for propulsion, tentacle arrangement, and genetic makeup.

At only 1.5 inches long, it likely feeds on small creatures called copepods, which it subdues with its venom – though it remains to be seen what its sting does to people. "We are thrilled with this discovery," lead researcher Qiu Jianwen told Hong Kong Baptist University. "Finding a new species in Mai Po, where extensive research has been conducted, highlights the potential for more marine life discovery in the Hong Kong and even the Chinese coastal waters."

Ukaguru spiny-throated reed frog

On occasion, researchers set out to study one species only to discover a totally different one in the process. Such was the case when biologists searching for a critically endangered tree toad in the Ukaguru Mountains of central Tanzania stumbled upon a mysterious little golden frog instead. Even wilder? It was a brand-new species – and an unusual one at that.

According to a 2023 study published in PLOS ONE, this species doesn't croak or call like most other frogs. Rather, males likely attract mates with a series of small spines on their throats, which researchers believe the frogs use as a kind of Braille. As a result, the media took to calling it the "silent frog," though its official name is Hyperolius ukaguruensis. It can be distinguished from other spiny-throated reed frogs by its golden coloration, genetics, and relatively small eyes.

The Ukaguru Mountains are considered "sky islands" – a type of biological hotspot in which one ecosystem is surrounded by a radically different habitat type, isolating the species that live there. The tropical rainforest mountaintops, therefore, become like islands in a sea of savanna, giving rise to unusual species found nowhere else on Earth. "The Ukaguru Mountains are part of the greater Eastern Arc Rift, a fascinating cradle of biodiversity, with many species endemic to single mountain blocks," study researcher H. Christoph Liedtke said in a press release. "The fast population growth in Tanzania means that the mountain forest habitats are under growing threats from people."

[Featured image by C. Liedtke via PLOS ONE | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 4.0 ]

Salleh's semi-slug

Some regions are so biodiverse that even a quick visit all but guarantees a new species discovery. That was the thinking behind a series of survey expeditions to the rainforests of northern Borneo Island, which consisted of a rag-tag group of biologists, citizen scientists, students, and everyday Joes. The venture paid off. According to a 2023 study published in the Biodiversity Data Journal, the group found a new species of semi-slug crawling around on vegetation at night and after rains.

Also called "snugs," semi-slugs are strange small-shelled missing links in the mollusk world, bridging the gap between slugs and snails. The species was first identified based on its unique shell and genitals, which are, oddly enough, a great way to identify slugs. After taking photos and descriptions of living specimens, portable genetic kits were used to sequence the semi-slug's genomes right there in the field. The creature was named Microparmarion sallehi after Md Salleh Abdullah Ba, who led the expeditions hosting the exciting find right before retiring.

The new semi-slug is proof that anyone can discover a new species. "We hope to spread a sense of the importance of basic taxonomic discovery among the general public, who all too often believe that today in the 21st century, 'there is nothing left to be discovered,'" study researcher Iva Njunjić told Mongabay. "With only a fraction of the world's biodiversity cataloged, the reverse is true, and it is important to spread this message outside of the usual scientific circles."

[Featured image by Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre, Brunei Darussalam via Biodiversity Data Journal | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 4.0 ]

Isla Cedros liveforevers

While describing new species is important for conservation, sometimes it can also expose previously anonymous lifeforms to new dangers. And, for one botanist, this created a bit of a quandary. According to a 2023 study published in Madroño, botanist Stephen McCabe discovered two new plant species – Dudleya delgadilloi and Dudleya cochimiana (pictured) – while surveying Isla Cedros, a small island off the coast of Baja California, Mexico.

Both new species are members of the western North American genus Dudleya, which are commonly known as liveforevers. As their name suggests, they are long-lived succulent plants that can sometimes live to be up to 100 years old – that is, so long as poachers don't remove them from their native environments. Liveforevers have become popular in the horticultural trade, particularly in Asia, and many species are now endangered due to illegal over-collecting. In addition to harming the Dudleyas themselves, as most don't survive in captivity, poaching activities also damage vital coastal ecosystems, therefore impacting countless other species as well.

In fact, it remains such a threat that McCabe admitted that describing these new rare species presented him with a major catch-22. "If a species has not been named, it is unlikely to get any formal protection," he explained to UC Santa Cruz. "But if it is named, it might become attractive to poachers." In the end, he decided that these species were likely not flashy enough to appeal to the horticultural trade – which could end up saving them from extinction.

[Featured image by Tom Wainwright via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC-BY-4.0]

Bioluminescent Japanese seaworms

Finding a new species is always a cause for celebration, but it's an added bonus when the discovery could potentially assist with medical and technological advances. For a research team surveying small seaworms off the coast of Japan, a simple unassuming taxonomic revision could end up leading to so much more. According to a 2023 study published in Royal Society Open Science, it all started when the researchers identified three new-to-science seaworm species: Polycirrus onibi, Polycirrus aoandon, and Polycirrus ikeguchii.

Like all worms of the genus Polycirrus, they are relatively small creatures that live in marine environments, where they often hide out in mud, seagrass, and rocky crevices. But what fascinated researchers the most was their bioluminescence. The worms' ghostly bluish-purple glow, emitted during disturbances, reminded them of the luminous yokai of Japanese folklore, so they named one after an entity called "onibi," which is essentially a type of will-o'-the-wisp, and another after "aoandon," which takes the form of a horned woman in white.

Bioluminescence isn't unique to Polycirrus worms, but being able to study how it is genetically expressed in three closely related species is extremely helpful for gaining an understanding of how exactly the mechanism works. "Bioluminescence is a treasure trove of interesting and unusual chemistry," lead researcher Naoto Jimi explained in a press release. "We intend to use our findings to deepen our understanding of the molecular nature of this phenomenon and apply this knowledge to the development of new life sciences technologies."

[Featured image by Jimi, N., Et al. via Royal Society Open Science | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 4.0 ]

Scawfell Island leaf-tailed gecko

Gecko diversity is having a moment lately, with new species being described on a monthly if not daily basis. Even still, it's always exciting when an animal that has managed to evade biologists for years is finally discovered – especially one as large and conspicuous as a gecko. According to a 2023 study published in Zootaxa, a four-day survey of Scawfell Island – a small uninhabited rainforest island in the Great Barrier Reef located around 30 miles off the coast of Queensland, Australia – resulted in the discovery of a secretive new gecko.

The nocturnal creature, which measures about six inches long, was found hunting for insects and other small prey in a moist boulder-strewn landscape punctuated by ferns and fig trees. During the hot days, it likely hides under rocks. Like all leaf-tailed geckos, it has a flattened, spine-fringed tail that resembles a dead leaf. This species also has a pronounced snout, which reminded researcher Conrad Hoskin of "a little dragon."

Because it's only found on one island featuring less than 0.5 square miles of suitable habitat, the new gecko – named Phyllurus fimbriatus – is considered imperiled. Luckily, Scawfell Island is already a protected area, though invasive species and fire pose risks to the small island's wildlife. Still, the discovery calls for celebration. As Hoskin told The Guardian: "Australia's pretty well explored, so it's exciting when we get an instantly obviously new big creature – like a lizard or a frog or a bird – discovered in this day and age."

[Featured image by Conrad Hoskin via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC-BY-SA-4.0]