If you work in an office, like me, it’s easy to go through most of the day only interacting with other humans. But all it takes is a walk in the park to see that we are just one of the many animals that walk this Earth. Ants crawl out of cracks in the sidewalk, songbirds flit between tree branches and, if you’re unlucky, yellow jackets show up to steal a sip of your iced tea.
Some animals, like squirrels and pigeons, have become all-to-familiar. But, others have evolved and thrived in environments rarely seen by human eyes — the depths of the ocean and remote swaths of the Amazon Rainforest.
Even in the midst of what scientists are calling the sixth mass extinction, caused by anthropogenic climate change, the world is teeming with life. Researchers encounter undiscovered species and describe them to their peers in academic papers about 8,000 times per year, according to one estimate.
The following list is not comprehensive. Instead, this is a list of a few of the best looking and, of course, most charismatic new animals discovered in 2023.
1. Vampire Wasp, Peru
Last year, a group of Finnish and American researchers erected tent-like insect traps in a nature reserve outside of the Peruvian city of Iquitos. The traps captured hundreds of insects, many of which were new species, referred to as vampire wasps.
One specimen stood out from the pack: a large wasp that, from the front, looks like a cross between an old man with a scraggly beard and the Predator. In a paper published this month on ZooKeys, the scientists identified the insect as a new species of Darwin wasp, a diverse family spread around the world.
They called the new species Capitojoppa amazonica. “Capito” came from the medieval Latin word for “big head,” for obvious reasons. “Joppa” pays homage to the wasp’s smaller cousins, the Joppa genus. And “amazonica” describes where it was found: “the largest and most diverse rainforest on Earth.”
Though nothing is known about Capitojoppa amazonica’s life cycle, the details are sure to be gruesome. The family of wasps that it belongs to has a habit of laying eggs in unsuspecting hosts like spiders and caterpillars. Once the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae eat their way from the inside out.
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2. Kem Kem Abelisaur, Morocco
Unnamed abelisaurids, commonly known as Kem Kem Abelisaur, is a blast from the past — 66 million years ago to be exact. Researchers uncovered two prehistoric bones from the outskirts of phosphate mines in Morocco. The sediments that the bones were found in date back to the era immediately before an asteroid struck the Earth and ended the reign of dinosaurs.
The scientists, led by English paleontologist Nick Longrich, identified the bones as belonging to an abelisaurid, the family that included North America’s Tyrannosaurus rex. Another abelisaurid, the giant Chenanisaurus barbaricus, lived in Morocco at the time, and the researchers thought that the bones might belong to a juvenile member of this species due to their size. However, upon closer inspection, they realized that the bone texture was characteristic of an adult.
In the end, the scientists decided that the bones belonged to not one, but two new species of abelisaurid. The species likely lived alongside the larger Chenanisaurus barbaricus and were distant cousins of T. rex.
3. Lightbulb Anemone, U.S.
Scientists aren’t always the first people to discover a new animal, yet a new species doesn’t get an illustrious latin name until a researcher comes along. Avid divers and aquarium keepers have known about “the lightbulb anemone” for decades, but a description of the species was missing from the academic literature until this year.
Earlier this month, a group of scientists from Ohio and Florida published an article that describes Bellactic lux and summarizes all of the information gathered by ocean enthusiasts over the years. The translucent sea creature lives in the Gulf of Mexico, where it stings and ensnares prey from the safety of rocky crevices. The species is quite small — sometimes just a half inch across — and is distinguished by the bulbous tips of its tentacles.
4. Nautilus spp, Oceania
Nautiloids are some of the oldest surviving animals on the planet. They first emerged nearly half a billion years ago, around the same time that the first plants migrated from the sea onto land. They are related to squid and octopi, but unlike their cousins, they live within the safety of a rock-hard, external shell.
Today, Nautilus is the only surviving genus of the once widespread nautiloids. All its members reside in the South Pacific. In January of this year, a team of marine biologists published a paper describing three new species of Nautilus found on reefs off the coast of three different islands in Oceania: Vanuatu, American Samoa and Viti Levu, Fiji. The new classifications nearly doubled the number of extant Nautilus species — from four to seven.
Though these species are new to the academic community, they may already be going extinct. Nautilus shells are coveted for jewelry-making, which has led to over-trapping of the animals.
5. Giant Crab Spider, Ecuador
An insect making its way across the forest floor in the Ecuadorian Amazon at night can never feel fully safe. A hulking creature with eight eyes, eight legs and a fuzzy-red abdomen lays in wait, perched atop a bush or on the side of a tree trunk. This giant crab spider is ready to pounce at the insect any moment.
Pedro Peñaherrera-R. and Diego Cisneros-Heredia stumbled across this beast, a giant crab spider from the genus Sadala, during a nighttime hike near the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador. Though the spider is the first of its kind in Ecuador, nine other species live in nearby countries. One even lives in the same area that the Capitojoppa amazonica was discovered. Who knows, perhaps the spider, if unlucky, is a host for wasp larvae.
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