Home: Scrying: Species Mania!

Species Mania!

February 08, 2006

I’m working on a biology assignment this week to define a species. Not a single species—that comes in the term paper (I’ll be writing about Deinococcus radiodurans) due later on—rather, we are to examine the definition of the taxon “species”. It sounds easy (and would have been before they discovered DNA) but is really one of those tricky questions, filled with exceptions.

It makes me wonder how a naturalist must feel as they encounter a new organism for the first time, in an area previously never seen by human eyes. Isolated areas, like islands or mountain peaks can lead to speciation; in other words, different (and strange) things can evolve in remote places. Sometimes it may be easy to guess how the different and strange creature before you is related to what you have seen, sometimes it isn’t. A new species of tree frog is discovered in the mountains of Papua New Guinea.Sometimes differences in DNA agrees with your assumptions, sometimes it doesn’t. Is the thrill of the discovery any less great, when you know amino acids may have the last word? I’d think, for me, it would be greater… not only is it a puzzle, but a puzzle we can check a solution against. 

Of course, with the exception of the depths of the ocean, there are relatively few unvisited places on Earth. So, scientists exploring a remote mountain range on Papua New Guinea were presented by a very rare opportunity: finding new species.

According to the Washington Post:

Flown by helicopter to a mountain preserve virtually untouched by humans, the scientists found more than 40 species new to science.

These included:
  • New plants
  • Giant flowers (including a rhododendron with 6” wide blossoms)
  • A honey-eating bird (Papua New Guinea is already well known to ornithologists for feathery diversity)
  • A new species of treefrog (shown above)
  • A tree kangaroo

And, finally, a spiny-looking, egg-laying mammal:
Another night, Richards almost stepped on the tail of an echidna, a bizarre, egg-laying mammal like a hedgehog that is also called the spiny anteater. It was so unaccustomed to human contact that it allowed Richards to pick it up and carry it back to be examined.

Apparently the echidna wasn’t too peeved about being stepped on. Then again, after taking a look at the creature, I wouldn’t be too happy to step on it.

Photos of the spiny anteater and other unique species are compiled into a lovely slideshow. You may have to register with the site to view the article and slideshow, but it is well worth it.