New Species Report

Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina)

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The newest member of the raccoon family, and the first mammalian carnivore to be discovered in the Americas in 35 years.



Pirate Ant (Cardiocondyla pirata)

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Named for their eye patch-like marking, believed to spend their entire lives underground.


Dwarf Goby (Eviota santanai)


First new species found off of Timor-Leste, different from other gobies in their unique coloring.


Mystery Bug

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Found in Suriname, may not actually be a new species, but an insect in the nymph stage of a known species.


Cowboys of the Arctic

Deep in the wilderness of Finnish Lapland, far above the Arctic Circle, brothers Aarne and Lasse Aatsinki herd the last wild reindeer.  The filmmaker, ethnobiologist Jessica Oreck, has gained renown for her study through film of the way humans interact with nature.  The documentary is not yet available to the public, but was nominated for best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival.  A short clip is available here, and I highly recommend taking a look and considering seeing it in its entirety when it comes out!




Glass Eel Recovery in Japan

All over the world, eel populations are in steep decline.  These mysterious creatures have a complex life cycle that includes a stage (following the larval stage), in which they are referred to as glass eels and are only a few inches long. In the U.S., the decline of the American Eel prompted a 2007 petition to have them added to the endangered species list.  The proposal was denied; however, there will be another chance to have them added in 2015.  In Japan, the country with the highest eel consumption rate (70% of the global catch), has listed one species as endangered. This act alone, though, is not nearly enough.

Vast quantities of glass eels are captured and sent to Japanese aquaculture farms to be raised for sushi, in addition to being threatened by “changing ocean currents, disease, pollutants, fisheries, barriers to migration [such as dams] and freshwater habitat loss.”  The issue of over harvesting, which has profoundly negative effects on eel populations, is not being helped by the rising value of the eels.  In Europe, only 1% of previous number of glass eels migrating are still doing so.

In America, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is closing fisheries on the East Coast to allow for eel recovery.  Japanese researchers are taking perhaps more direct steps to heal eel populations. At the National Research Institute of Aquaculture in Shibushi, scientists have developed an efficient captive breeding system. Although the sustainability of the program may not be perfect due to fossil fuel heating and use of fish meal as a food source for the eels, 99% of glass eels cultured survive into the next life stage. While the glass phase seems simple enough to support, it is the life stage preceding the glass stage that proves problematic.

What makes the the larval eel, or Leptocephali, so unique is the “transparent gelatinous material [making up their bodies] that functions to store energy.”  The Leptocephali are so difficult to culture because of their unique diet, which is unlike that other marine larvae that feed on zooplankton.  At this point in their life cycle, the eels feed on marine snow, which is “composed of materials released by phytoplankton that mix with other free material in the ocean and are colonized by microorganisms.”  Naturally, this food source is difficult to develop for use in captivity.  Researchers have developed a pink paste substitute made of shark eggs, soy protein, and various vitamins. This method will only last so long, however, because the preferred shark, the Spiny dogfish, is listed as vulnerable.

Despite a few set backs, it does seem that the Japan’s captive breeding programs will, and are already, make a positive impact.


Tank of Glass Eels


New Cat Species Found Hiding In Plain Sight

Cousin to the Oncilla (AKA the tigrina), the newly dubbed Southern tigrina bears a strong resemblance to the species it was mistaken for.  The only physical characteristics that distinguish it from the Oncilla are its slightly darker coloration, slightly larger spots, slightly shorter tail, and slightly more rounded ears.  Analysis of DNA, however, has revealed striking differences.  The genetic “gulf” between the two cats is as great as between any two cat species, despite their ultra-similar appearances.  The two cats are, in fact, two different species.

Interestingly enough, one species turning out to be two has happened before.  The Nile crocodile, along with the tigrina, is what scientists are calling “cryptic species.”  The Nile crocodile is actually a group of two species that are only distantly related.