It’s Always Something (New)! Recent Discoveries in Herpetofauna

In 2023, scientists and researchers recorded many fascinating creatures to add to our knowledge about life here on the planet. Among the nearly 1,000 new species discovered by the research team of the London Natural History Museum and the California Academy of Sciences were, not surprisingly, a number of reptiles and amphibians. But what a lineup!

The herpetological riches include the so-called "groins of fire" tree frog found in Peru, a nonvenomous snake also from Peru named after actor Harrison Ford (it's not his fault), a snail-eating snake from Ecuador named BY actor Leonardo di Caprio to honor his mother (aww), a croakless amphibian--the spiny throated tree frog from Tanzania--who may mate by touch (!), the lesser thorn-tailed gecko, found in western Australia, that can shoot…goo out of its tail, and a new species of legless skink found in the high mountains of Angola.

The articles reporting these revelations discuss only some of the complexities of these new discoveries from both plant and animal kingdoms. Some species were truly unknown. Others are rediscoveries of species thought extinct but which are in fact still hanging on for dear life. Other discoveries involve species which ARE extinct but because of their fossil traces, we now know about them. (Which is something, at least). Included in the discoveries are the Sierra Nevada red fox, thought extinct since 1930 (wrong!), several species of long-extinct bats, a monstrously large spider, a lightbulb anemone, a blind subterranean catfish, an oddly-snouted furry hedgehog (yes, you read that right), and a giant penguin--also sadly (but not surprisingly) extinct.

The announcement came in time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act in the United States. It also highlighted the importance of the act in the face of ongoing species devastation due to pollution, habitat loss, climate change, and deforestation.

Let us hope that 2024 brings other discoveries of all kinds of plant and animal life. And may it also bring humankind's renewed commitment to respect and protect the diverse living creatures that share the planet with us!