Accelerated climate change and biodiversity loss, both driven by human activities, are threatening nature and people’s lives and livelihoods around the world. According to the International Union for Conservation’s Red List of Threatened Species — a major indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity — least 10,967 species are currently affected, increasing their likelihood of extinction.
That makes the Academy of Natural Sciences’ description of five new species in 2021 all the more critical to understanding the natural world and inspiring everyone to care for it. The newly named birds, insect, fish and fossil fish add to the Academy’s world-renowned scientific research and research collection of more than 19 million animal and plant specimens dating back to the institution’s founding in 1812.
Here’s an overview of the newly named species in 2021:
Scientists have been studying screech owls for decades, but their nocturnal nature makes it hard for scientists to tell them apart by plumage and size alone. Jason Weckstein, PhD, Academy associate curator of Ornithology and an associate professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, and his collaborators described two new species of screech owl using multiple voice recordings, DNA sequencing and antique data from a museum specimen that is over 173 years old.
While the Xingu (Megascops stangiae) and Alagoas (Megascops alagoensis) screech owls are new to science, they’re already in danger of disappearing forever.
“Both new species are threatened by deforestation, one is already critically endangered,” said Weckstein. “The Xingu Screech Owl is endemic to the south side of the Amazon River in a region known for its infamous arc of deforestation, and the Alagoas Screech Owl is found in a few remaining fragments of isolated Atlantic Forest in northeastern Brazil. Both regions are increasingly fragmented, and there needs to be big uniform patches of green conserved in both regions if we want these species to succeed.”
Researchers at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Museu Parasense Emilío Goeldi in Belém Brazil, The Finish Museum of Natural History, and the Field Museum of Natural History collaborated on this work which was published in Zootaxa.
Years ago, French ichthyologists suspected that a small silvery fish that schools among the rocky rapids of a few crystal clear streams of the Maroni and neighboring watersheds in French Guiana was new to science but did not formally name it. Fast forward to 2007 when Mark Sabaj, PhD, Academy collection manager of fishes, went on his own expedition to Maroni and collected specimens of the same fish, a member of the tetra genus Bryconops.
Sabaj loaned the specimens to Cárlison Silva-Oliveira, a Brazilian student studying Bryconops from throughout South America for his doctoral thesis. Cárlison confirmed the Bryconops as new and with the help of his co-authors published a complete description of the species with comparisons to related ones.
Sabaj suggested naming the new species Bryconops foerdererae to honor Academy benefactor Florence de Rapleye Foerderer (1926-1999). Foerderer loved animals and her bequest to the Academy continued the Foerderer family’s long history of civic involvement and philanthropy in the Philadelphia area.
But Sabaj’s collaborators pointed out that “foerdererae” is nearly impossible for Portuguese (the first language of most Brazilians) speakers to pronounce, and they agreed to Bryconops florenceae. Read the paper in Neotropical Ichthyology.
Sometimes new species are found in the darndest places. Ted Daeschler, PhD, Academy associate curator of vertebrate zoology and professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, has discovered many millions-of-years-old fossils from highway road cuts in northcentral Pennsylvania.
After several collecting trips to a road cut in Lycoming County from 2014 to 2021, Daeschler and Academy Research Associate Jason Downs, PhD, associate professor at Delaware Valley University, revealed a new lobe-finned fish (sarcopterygian) from the Late Devonian Period, 365 million years ago. They named it Eusthenodon bourdoni in honor of Paul Bourdon, a recreational fossil collector who has donated numerous specimens of Devonian fossils to the Academy’s Vertebrate Paleontology Collection.
“The well-preserved fossil specimens allowed us to describe this species in detail and clarify the features that distinguish the Eusthenodon group,” said Downs. “The diversity of lobe-finned fish during the Devonian Period includes forms that developed features that became important aspects of the body plan in the first limbed animals, which appear near the end of the Devonian Period.”
“This new taxon is one of several tristichopterid sarcopterygians that have been recently collected, prepared and curated into the Academy’s collection. The diversity of this group within the Late Devonian-age Catskill Formation is unprecedented,” added Daeschler.
Downs, Daeschler and one of Downs’ students published the paper in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Crane flies form one of the largest groups in the true flies (order Diptera), which also includes the commonly known mosquitoes, gnats, flower flies, horse flies and house flies. There are over 15,000 described species of crane flies (Diptera: Tipuloidea), and all were described from and based on the adult stage of the insect.
Last year marked the first time a crane fly was described as a new species based on the larval stage alone. Jon Gelhaus, PhD, Academy curator of Entomology and professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, and his colleagues described the new species Elliptera mongolica Podeniene, Podenas & Gelhaus sp. nov. in a paper in the European Journal of Taxonomy.
“This discovery was made possible by using a DNA-based analysis employing the mitochondrial CO1 gene (molecular barcoding) to associate adults and immature stages, and to recognize that unassociated larvae we had collected from China and Mongolia represented an undescribed species,” Gelhaus explained. “This opens new avenues for documenting the diversity of crane flies globally, which I have estimated still remains at least 50 % unknown to science.
By Carolyn Belardo