New Discoveries is a collaboration between Stanford and Academy scientists and staff, appearing on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month. Here we celebrate newly described species and demonstrate how much more there is to learn about life on Earth.
Students Discover Deadly Snake
A group of students driving in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park discovered a snake species new to science. Described in the latest issue of the journal Zootaxa, Bitis harenna is more than three feet long, and given its venomous close relations, its bite is almost certainly lethal. Bale Mountains National Park has rarely been explored for its biodiversity. What other species may be waiting there for discovery, deadly or benign? Scientists are searching quickly, because the park is threatened by deforestation.
Three New Mouse Lemurs
As if being small and nocturnal weren’t camouflage enough, mouse lemurs have another way of avoiding scientists—many species look alike with their brown fur and adorable large eyes. Because they can only be distinguished reliably using genetic methods, two species have become 24 species in the past two decades! Three of these were described just last week in Molecular Ecology. The scientists working on these small lemurs realize it’s a race against time. “To know the exact distribution area of individual species is necessary to identify functioning protected areas,” says Peter Kappeler of the German Primate Center. These lemurs join their brethren who are threatened by extinction and represent the world’s most endangered group of mammals.
Scientists have described a new rat, Rattus detentus, from Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The rat is big, weighing about 500 grams (more than a pound), and like the other new species in this post, possibly already endangered—sightings of the rodent are very rare. Residents and scientists alike had suspected the rat existed because of large toothmarks on tough nuts in the area. The new species was discovered and named by a team including famed Australian scientist Tim Flannery, and its name means “detained,” referring to a detention center on the island for asylum seekers waiting to enter Australia. The naming must have worked. Today Australia’s prime minister announced the center will soon close.
Image: G. Donati