This sea slug discovered in the Philippines was just one of 94 new species described by the California Academy of Sciences in 2009. Image credit: California Academy of Sciences.
Proving that there's "still plenty of places to explore and things to discover on Earth," the researchers of the California Academy of Sciences traversed four continents and two oceans to uncover nearly 100 new species in 2009.
Among the 94 discoveries were "65 arthropods, 14 plants, eight fishes, five sea slugs, one coral, and one fossil mammal." Though these findings represent the work of incredible inventories of biodiversity, researchers were quick to point out that there is much more work to be done.Photo Gallery: Vote for the Most Incredible Species Discovered in 2009
Dr. David Mindell, Dean of Science and Research Collections at the Academy, explained:
Humans rely on healthy ecosystems, made up of organisms and their environments...creating a comprehensive inventory of life on our planet is critical for understanding and managing resources.
He added that, "a great many life-forms remain to be discovered and described."
Highlights of the Discoveries
The only mammal species discovered by the Academy was identified by Anthropology Curator Zeray Alemseged. While conducting research on early humans in Ethiopia, Alemseged uncovered a complete fossil skull and several fragments of a 3.3 million-year-old raccoon dog. Though extinct for millennia, Nyctereutes lockwoodi has one modern relative: Nyctereutes procyonoides, native to East Asia.
The skull fossil that allowed for the description of N. lockwoodi. Image credit: California Academy of Sciences
One of the strangest species discovered was found just off the coast of California. The "black ghostshark" (Hydrolagus melanophasma) is notable for being the first of its type discovered in the Eastern Pacific since 1947.
A member of a group commonly referred to as chimaeras, ratfish, rabbitfish, and ghostsharks—and believed to be one of the oldest families of fish in the ocean—Hydrolagus melanophasmais a distant relative of sharks. However, the species is thought to have branched away from sharks more than 400 million years ago.
The most interesting thing about this new fish is that it has its "sexual appendages" on its forehead. We'll leave the rest to your imagination.
Spiders from Yunnan
More than two-thirds of the discoveries made by the academy in 2009 belonged to the arthropod group. This is not surprising, researchers explained, considering arthropods—which includes insects, arachnids, and others—are one of the most diverse on the planet.
One notable find occurred in Yunnan Province in China, where 36 new species were discovered.
"The effort to determine the genealogical links among all life-forms, and describe their distributions," Dr. Mindell explained, "allows biologists to assess the relative distinctiveness of groups of organisms and various geographic regions, and helps determine conservation priorities."
In other words: New discoveries give us a better understanding of the diversity of life on earth but also of the threats many species face.
Slideshow: A Trip to the California Academy of Sciences
Read more about new species:
New Species Discovered Thanks to Vomiting Snake
Wild and Weird New Species Discovered in 2009 (Slideshow)
Birdfeeders Found to Cause Evolution of New Species