Who said there is nothing new under the sun? Scientists discover about 18,000 new species every year.
Most of the time, they find new animals without even leaving the office. They simply discover them while studying the collections stored in museums. Other times, they do find them in the great outdoors. And others, still, in the deep sea, which remains mostly unexplored.
These are 9 of the coolest -arguably- new animals discovered since 1990.
1. Omura’s whale
A whole whale swam under the radar until 2003.
Japanese researchers caught the first eight specimens in the 1970s. They did think the whales were a bit odd. They looked like Bryde’s whales, but they were smaller and had some differences. Still, they filed them as Bryde’s.
Then, in 1998, another small ‘Bryde’s’ was stranded in Japan. It was preserved.
Five years later, Japanese scientists got curious about these odd preserved specimens. They began studying them and discovered the whales were not Bryde’s after all, but a new species.
According to genetics, the two species diverged 7 to 17 million years ago.
Scientists now had a new species, the Omura’s. But they had never seen one alive. They would have to wait 11 years for that.
In 2014, researcher Salvatore Cerchio was looking for dolphins off the coast of Madagascar. One day, his team filmed a medium-sized whale. Thinking it might be an Omura’s, they got a DNA sample.
The results confirmed their suspicions. So the team began to study the Omura’s in the wild. And then, in 2015, they described them on a paper.
Now that the paper was out and that people knew what the Omura’s looked like, there were sightings of the whale all over the world.
Yet, the Omura’s remain a bit of a mystery. Researchers do know they are baleen whales, so they are toothless type. They live in all oceans, in subtropical and tropical waters. And apparently, they do not migrate like other whales.
The Balaenoptera omurais live in solitary, in pairs, or in groups of up to 6 individuals.
They are about 12 m (40 ft) long -like a 4-story building- and weigh 44,000 pounds (20,000 kg).
Saolas live in dense, remote forests. Little wonder they are rarely seen.
In 1992, the Ministry of Forestry of Vietnam and the WWF were surveying wildlife.
In a village, the team found an unusual skull with long, parallel horns (50 cm/20 in long). It was a hunter’s trophy. The team had not seen a similar skull before, so they asked around and found more skulls and furs.
After further study, the team knew they had found a species new to science. The locals, on the other hand, are quite acquainted with them and call them saolas.
Saolas are not only a new species (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) but a new genus (a broader category than species).
Their closest relatives are wild cattle and buffaloes. Even so, saolas look like small antelopes.
Scientists have set capture-traps to photograph this elusive animal in its habitat… and they have about five pictures so far.
The other problem is that saolas die soon in captivity. A few were caught on different occasions, but they died within days or months. Thus, scientists know little about their habits.
Saolas: looks and habitat
Saolas have a mild temper. They are about waist high and weigh up to 220 lbs (100 kg).
Both females and males have antlers. Their fur is brown, and they have white markings on their faces.
They probably feed on grass, leaves, and other herbs from ground level. During summer, they apparently live on higher ground.
So far, saolas are only known to live in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos.
3. Bigfin squid
And then, they realized it was not the first time scientists met these new animals. There were two specimens in storage, one found in 1907 and the other in 1954. But those early specimens were incomplete -one was found in the belly of a fish that had eaten it-, so they had been misclassified.
The duo kept studying the rare squid.
Meanwhile, the French submersible Nautile, built to explore the deep sea, filmed an odd creature off the coast of Brazil. The Nautile was at a depth of, mind you, 4,735 meters (15,535 ft).
Then, the crew filmed two other specimens of this creature in 1992. One was swimming off the coasts of Ghana and the other in Senegal’s waters. On both occasions, the Nautile was about 3,000 meters (9,880 ft) deep.
These odd-looking squids turned out to be the same as the U.S. researchers were studying.
In 1998, more than a decade into their research, Michael and Robert reached a conclusion. The specimens were not a new species, not even a new genus, but a new family of squids (a broader category than genus).
The researchers called it Bigfin squid or Magnapinnidae.
Since then, the bigfin has been caught on tape more times, always at impressive depths and usually near the ocean floor.
The bigfin has a small body and two large fins that look like elephant ears. It has 10 very long arms and tentacles that end in filaments. Although the arms and tentacles look alike in film, the tentacles are actually thicker and longer.
Known bigfins measure up to 7 meters (23 ft). But scientists believe there are larger specimens out there.
Other than that, little is known about these squids.
Since the discovery of the family, biologists have recognized that not all bigfins are alike. There are different species. The last bigfin species Richard and Michael discovered in 2006 is the Magnapinna atlantica.
4. Kipunji monkey
Scientists thought this monkey was a local myth. Until they bumped into it in 2003.
And after thoroughly examining it, they realized it was not only a new species but a new genus.
The Kipunji, as locals call it, lives in Tanzania, in high-altitude forests.
Kipunjis are shy monkeys that flee from humans. It took biologist Tim Davenport and his team more than a year to be able to get close to them.
Kipunjis live in trees. They hide quite well in the canopy and rarely descend to the ground. They feed on plants and fruits. And they travel in groups of up to 36 individuals.
Kipunjis have light brown hair, are about 90 cm long, and weigh between 22 and 35 pounds (10 – 16 kg). Males and females look alike.
The Rungwecebus kipunji‘s closest relative is the baboon.
Twenty new species were discovered in recent years in this area of Tanzania. The same Tim Davenport & team discovered there the Matilda’s horn viper in 2012, the Msuya’s chameleon in 2015, and a new frog.
5. Sunda clouded leopard
In 2006, scientists did DNA tests on these kitties and examined the skeletons and furs kept in museums. And they realized the island variety is actually a different species from the mainland leopards. The two groups split about 1.5 million years ago.
All clouded leopards are medium-sized cats. Their fur has distinctive large cloud-like spots delineated in black. The spots are darker than the rest of the fur.
But the islanders are larger, have darker fur, smaller spots, and have longer canines (5 cm long/2 in) than their mainland cousins.
This newly discovered species goes by the name of Sunda clouded leopards, aka Nebulosa diardis.
Little is known about clouded leopards, as they are difficult to find and study in the wild. Scientists mostly know about them from zoo specimens. Since 2010, footage caught by camera-traps set in the forests has helped biologists understand them a bit better.
Sundas were thought to be nocturnal, but apparently, they can be active during the day. They move both on land and through the canopy.
In Sumatra, they are always up in the canopy to avoid their archenemies: tigers. Tigers live on the ground and feed on leopards.
Sundas, in turn, prey on monkeys, birds, deer, mouses, pigs, and fishes.
Sundas are small. Their body can be one meter long, and they have a long tail that they use for balance. The Sunda is about 50 cm high (20 in) to the shoulder and weighs up to 67 lbs (30 kg).
They are thought to be solitary and monogamous.
6. Tapanuli orangutan
This is another case of mistaken identity. In the 1930s, a zoologist reported orangutans lived south of Lake Toba, on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. But the discovery was missed by the scientific community at large.
Forty years later, Erik Meijaard, a biological anthropologist, found the paper written by the zoologist. Nobody was aware that orangutans lived there. So Erik went to the difficult-to-access area to check.
And, indeed, he found a population of orangutans. The specimens looked a bit different from other orangutans, though. They had smaller heads, flatter faces, and frizzier hair. But there can be variation within the same species. So Erik did his job, which consisted of confirming the existence of the population and describing their traits. And then he left.
Then in 2005, Gabriella Fredriksson, from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, set up a field station to study this group. Soon enough, the scientists started wondering if this was not a new species.
And when a male orangutan died in 2013, they were finally able to study a skeleton from the group. It was different from the skeletons of the other two known species of orangutans. One of the other species lives in Borneo and the other, like the new species, lives in Sumatra.
Further confirmation of their uniqueness came from a large genetic study. According to the results, the two species from Sumatra split about 3.4 million years ago.
The closest relative of the new species is actually the Borneo orangutan, which lives on the island next door. And those two species diverged some 700,000 years ago (like Neanderthals and modern humans).
The new species, Pongo tapanuliensis, behaves in many ways like other orangutans. They, too, live in rainforests and spend 90% of their waking time on trees. They eat mostly fruits, with an occasional invertebrate treat.
7. Genie’s dogfish
A team from the Florida Institute of Technology was working in the Gulf of Mexico. They were doing genetic research on deep-sea sharks.
Little is known about these sharks, as they are difficult to study at the depths they live in. Nevertheless, the heroic team found and tested several specimens during their years-long study.
And in 2018, they realized they had discovered a new species. They called it Genie’s dogfish or, more formally, the Squalus clarkae, in honor of famous shark biologist Eugene Clark.
These mini sharks are about 70 cm (2.3 ft) long and have big green-blue eyes, which make them look like a caricature. They live at depths of 200 m (656 ft) or more and probably feed on small fishes and invertebrates.
Up until then, they had been mistaken for their similar-looking cousins (Squalus mitsukurii) that live in Japan.
Shark biologist Toby Daly-Engel, who leads the team that found Genie, explains that: “Deep-sea sharks are all shaped by similar evolutionary pressure, so they end up looking a lot alike.” It is through a closer analysis and genetic testing that the differences are noted.
The shark family has grown lately as more species are discovered. Toby and her team, for example, discovered another deep-sea species, the Atlantic Sixgill Shark, the same year they discovered the Genie’s.
8. Lesula monkey
Researcher John Hart and his team were on an expedition to remote areas of D.R. Congo, in Africa.
One day, he was reviewing the pictures the team had taken days before. And one of the photos caught his attention. It was not a picture taken in the jungle but in a village. In it, a girl was feeding her pet monkey.
John had seen similar monkeys, but not of fur so light. So he went back to the village with his team, and they found two more pet monkeys like it. Locals call them lesulas.
The researchers spent the next five years studying wild lesulas. And in 2012, they published a paper describing this new species, the Cercopithecus lomaniensis.
The lesulas diverged from its closest relative, the owl-faced monkey, about 2 million years ago.
Lesulas are about twice the size and weight of a house cat.
They are shy and calm herbivores. They flee at the sight of humans. Yet, they are quite social with other smaller primates. They are known to travel with Wolf’s guenons, red-tailed guenons, and red colobuses.
In 2016, the government of Congo created the Lomani National Park to protect several species, including the lesula monkey.
Don’t know what an olingo is? You are not alone. They are small, furry, cuddly mammals. Olingos live in trees in South America. And they are related to raccoons.
In the 2000s, scientists from the Smithsonian, led by Kristofer Helgen, decided to check how many species of olingos there were. So they studied 95% of the olingos kept in the world’s museum.
And they realized that one group was different from the four species known to science. They had found a new species: the olinguito.
Then they checked where those specimens came from. The answer was from the mountains of Ecuador and Colombia. So the team went looking for them.
The locals did know the olinguitos. They showed the team photos and videos of the mammal and pointed them in the right direction. That is, to the cloud forests, up in the Andes Mountains, in Ecuador.
After studying them, the team formally declared them a new species (Bassaricyon neblina) in 2013.
Olinguitos are smaller than a house cat. Their body is about 35 cm (14 in) long, and they weigh 2 pounds (0.9 kg).
They are carnivores, yet mostly eat fruits and insects. Olinguitos live alone, rarely come off the trees, and are nocturnal.
Kristofer, the leader of the team, has discovered about 100 new species of mammals in recent years. Among them, the Greater Monkey-Faced Bat (2005), the Blue-Eyed Spotted Cuscus (2004), and the Skywalker Hoolock Gibbon (2017).
But he is especially fond of having identified the olinguito since it is the first carnivore discovered in the Western Hemisphere in more than three decades.