60 creatures new to science discovered in one rain forest

Rare, incredible photos from an expedition in Suriname

Topics: Rainforest, Conservation International, wildlife, Frogs, wilderness,

60 creatures new to science discovered in one rain forestThis sleek chocolate-colores "cocoa" frog (Hypsiboas sp.) may be new to science (Credit: Stuart V Nielsen/Conservation International)

Eleven species of fish, one snake, six frogs and a whole bunch of insects, all of which appear to be entirely new species, were discovered in a virtually untouched region of Suriname.

An international team of 16 scientists from Conservation International spent three weeks in the region, which could only be reached via plane, helicopter, boat and then foot. About 25 percent of the world’s remaining rain forest is in Suriname, making it an important hub of unexplored wilderness. “Suriname is one of the last places where an opportunity still exists to conserve massive tracts of untouched forest and pristine rivers where biodiversity is thriving,” said Trond Larsen, the team’s director, in a statement. “Ensuring the preservation of these ecosystems is not only vital for the Surinamese people, but may help the world to meet its growing demand for food and water as well as reducing the impacts of climate change.”

Their report details the rare and, in some cases, new species they encountered on the expedition. Below, some of their most fascinating discoveries, with captions provided by Conservation International:



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    Stuart V Nielsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    This sleek chocolate-colored "cocoa" frog (Hypsiboas sp.) may be new to science. This species is arboreal, using circular discs on their fingers and toes to adeptly climb into the treetops.

    Trond Larsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    The tiny "lilliputian beetle" (Canthidium cf. minimum) probably represents a new species to science, and perhaps even a new genus. At just 2.3 mm long, it may be the smallest dung beetle in the Guiana Shield, and perhaps the second smallest of currently described species in South America. Its’ antler-like antennae provide an acute sense of smell. Dung beetles play critical ecological roles that help support healthy ecosystems – by burying dung, they regulate parasites and disease, disperse seeds, and recycle nutrients to promote plant growth. Since dung beetle communities are tightly linked with the mammals which provide them with food, they are also commonly studied as indicators of hunting intensity and ecosystem health.

    Trond Larsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    A potentially new species of head-and-taillight tetra (Hemigrammus aff. ocellifer), closely related to a fish much appreciated by aquarium enthusiasts. This is just one of eleven new fish species discovered on the expedition, including a South American darter and a three-barbeled catfish. Fish were diverse and plentiful at the study sites, including many large fishes that are an important source of food for local people.

    Trond Larsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    The unusual dorsal coloration of this poison dart frog (Anomaloglossus sp.) differs from a similar species (Anomaloglossus baeobatrachus) found at the same sites, suggesting that it may represent a species new to science. Poison dart frogs are famous for the often powerful toxins they secrete – this poison is used by local people to hunt for food, but also holds enormous potential to yield new medicines to aid the global population. Chemicals from some poison dart frogs have already been used to develop painkillers, muscle relaxants, and heart stimulants.

    Piotr Naskrecki/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    This undescribed katydid species (Pseudophyllinae: Teleutini) is so strange that it represents an entirely new genus to science. Its unusually long, gangly legs are covered in sharp spines which help to deter predators. Many katydids are sensitive to habitat disturbance, and the species found on this expedition indicate that the region is pristine

    Andrew Short/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    This water beetle not only represents a new species, but also a new genus to science. This species was found living in water seepages on granite mountaintops, and may occur only in southeastern Suriname. The RAP team also found 25 other water beetle species on the expedition that are new to science. Many of the water beetles found by the team are indicative of the unusually high freshwater quality in the region.

    Stuart V Nielsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    Snouted tree frog (Scinax sp.), one of six potentially new frog species discovered during the expedition. This species represents the newest member of a diverse genus of very agile, fast-moving frogs with over 100 species.

    Trond Larsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    This orchid (Phragmipedium lindleyanum) is one of several rare and beautiful orchid species found on a mountaintop of the previously unexplored Grensgebergte Mountains. Many rare species occur on these distinctive granite outcroppings in Suriname. Species such as this that occur on mountaintops are highly vulnerable to climate change, since they are unable to migrate upslope in response to warming temperatures.

    Trond Larsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    In an extremely rare event, a large wolf spider eats a toxic poison-dart frog (Amereega trivitatta).

    Piotr Naskrecki/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    The bright colors of the false coral snake (Erythrolamprus aesculpi) lend it protection from predators, even though it lacks the deadly venom of the true coral snake. This is one of the 19 snake species encountered on the expedition, which included a true coral snake, a deadly fer-de-lance viper, and a species (Pseudoboa sp.) potentially new to science.

    Trond Larsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    Coprophanaeus lancifer is the largest of all South American dung beetles. Despite its name, this species feeds more frequently on carrion than on dung. A highly unusual case in the Animal Kingdom, both males and females of this species possess a long horn on their head, which they use during intense battles with other individuals of the same sex. The vast difference in adult body size seen here is primarily determined by how much food was available to the developing larva. This species is capable of rapidly burying large animal carcasses, providing an important ecological service that sustains rain forest health.

    Burton Lim/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    The Larger Fruit-eating Bat (Artibeus planirostris) was the most abundant bat during the survey. With their sharp teeth, they are capable of grabbing and eating large fruits. Using numerous transects of finely-meshed mist nets stretched through the forest, scientists discovered 28 bat species on the expedition.

    Piotr Naskrecki/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    The Delicate Slender Opossum (Marmosops parvidens) is an arboreal species which eats insects and fruit. This species is indicative of pristine, primary forests, and is one of the 39 species of small mammals (rats, bats, opossums) discovered on the expedition. Many small mammal species are important for dispersing seeds and ensuring forest regeneration.

    Trond Larsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    Many planthopper species exude waxy secretions from the abdomen, and these sometimes form long strands, such as can be seen in this photo. The long waxy strands may provide protection from predators - it could be that they fool a predator into attacking the wrong part of the insect, and the wax breaks off while the insect jumps to safety.

    Trond Larsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    Ants are important scavengers, and can be seen here (Camponotus sp.) eating a dead insect. This represents just one of the 149 ant species observed on the expedition, with many more still to be found.

    Brian O'Shea/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    While not rare, small wild cats such as this margay (Leopardus wiedii) are extremely shy and difficult to observe directly. The bird experts spotted this cat just before dawn on the overhanging branch of a tree and were able to observe it only four meters away for two or three minutes before it nimbly leapt away. Unlike most cats, the margay is adapted to a life in the trees, where it hunts birds, rodents and even monkeys.

    Piotr Naskrecki/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    While most katydids are herbivorous and feed on leaves, this species (Copiphora longicauda) uses its powerful, sharp mandibles to prey upon insects and other invertebrates. It is a member of the aptly named group of conehead katydids.

    Trond Larsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    A tree frog (Hypsiboas geographicus) clings to a branch in the lowland forest near Kasikasima. It represents one of the astounding 46 frog species found during the expedition, including six frog species potentially new to science

    Stuart V Nielsen/Conservation International

    Rainforest yields new discoveries

    Neusticurus bicarinatus is a semi-aquatic lizard found in small pools and streams in the area, and is an excellent underwater swimmer. It is just one of the 21 lizard species found by scientists during the survey.

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Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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