It sounds like the opening plot to a made-for-TV horror flick: Global warming renders an Arctic land bridge habitable, spurring a race of “monstrously big ants” to blaze a trail between Europe and America. This particular horror story actually played out 50 million years ago, and the monstrously big ants were only about 2 inches long, about the size of the smallest known hummingbird. Archeologists recently unearthed the fossilized remains of this new giant ant species—one of the largest ant species ever seen—in Wyoming, making it the first complete giant ant fossil found in America. And because similar giant ants have been found in Europe, they think this is the first reported example of a tropical insect traipsing across the Arctic.
It all started when paleoentomologist Bruce Archibald spied a fossil that was sitting in a drawer at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. “I immediately recognized it and said, ‘Oh my god, this is a giant ant and it looks like it’s related to giant ants that are known from about this time in Germany,’” as he told Live Science. The fossil they found was a queen ant, so we still don’t know how large the average worker was. Because of its whopping 2-inch length, he included the word “titan” into the new species, dubbing it Titanomyrma lubei.
The locals living in a remote Burmese forest gave wildlife biologists very clear instructions on how to find a rare species of monkey: Just go out on a rainy day, and listen for sneezes in the treetops. The snub-nosed monkey has nostrils that point up, they said, and it sneezes when rainwater drips into its nose.
Even with these amazingly great directions, the biologists failed to photograph a live specimen of the Burmese snub-nosed monkey–the image at right is a digital reconstruction of what the monkey probably looks like. Still, their examination of skins and skulls in the villagers’ possession provided enough evidence to declare that the monkey was a new species that had never before been described in the scientific literature. BBC reports:
The Silurian Period, 425 million years ago: As volcanic ash rained down on proto-England, a sea blob named Drakozoon gave its last. Now, using a computer model, scientists have finally witnessed what the soft-bodied ancient looked like in 3D.
Researchers first found a Drakozoon fossil six years ago in Herefordshire Lagerstätte, home to England’s mother-load of soft-bodied fossils. Such fossils are rare since most of these creatures decompose before a fossil can form.To capitalize on the find, a team chopped the Drakozoon fossil into 200 pieces, photographed those slices, and used a computer to construct a rotatable image of the old softy.
This butterfly has a really funny mustache. So does this mean it looks more like Borat or Brad Pitt? Jokes aside, when the curators at the Natural History Museum in London noticed a butterfly with extra hair around its mouth, they took a closer look and discovered that it’s a new species.
The museum’s butterfly expert, Blanca Huertas, originally found the specimen four years ago on an expedition to the Magdalena valleys in Colombia. When she brought it back to the U.K., it promptly got lost in the museum’s three-million-and-change butterfly collection.
The good news is that she’s finally gotten around to classifying it: Huertas matched the butterfly to a reference species in the museum—a 90-year-old specimen known for having hairy mouthparts—and confirmed that it is a new species after all. It is now called Magdelena Valley Ringlet (or if you want to get all scientific, it’s also called Splendeuptychia ackeryl). But our nickname of Tom Selleck will do.
Image: flickr/ Tom
A newly-discovered species of catfish can use its fins for more than swimming. From the top side, Lithogenes wahari looks like any other catfish, except with some extra body armor. But flip it over and you’ll see a giant sucking mouth and a pair of fleshy pelvic fins, which it uses to grasp and shimmy up slippery rocks in fast-flowing rivers.
Scientists first laid eyes on the strange fish 20 years ago in Venezuela. But the only specimen they had was in such bad condition that it “looked like it had been run over by a truck,” recalls researcher Scott Schaefer. It took years before the team was able to locate more of the species, which they found in abundance in a tributary of the Orinoco river. Capturing L. wahari was easy: the researchers easily picked 84 specimens off of rocks.
Diamond rings can get lost on the beach or fall down the drain. For something that truly lasts forever, consider naming a new species of bat after your sweetheart—or yourself.
Purdue University is holding an auction, just in time for the holiday season, to name nine newly discovered species, including seven bats and two turtles. The funds raised will go towards funding studies of the new species and conserving their natural habitats.
First up on the block is a real gem: the world’s tiniest bat. The little yellow creature is found from Mexico to Brazil and weighs less than a teaspoon of water. John Bickham, who helped discover the new species, explains the prize as follows: “The species name would look like: Rhogeessa (your name here). And fitting with the scientific protocols and the Latin descriptions for the genus and species, we would add an ‘i’ to the person’s name.”
Although the honor of naming a new species traditionally goes to the discoverer, Bickham is donating that right to the auction. In case you’re not sold yet, Bickham notes that bats make up nearly one-fourth of all mammals and they play essential roles as pollinators, seed dispersers, and pest controllers. The winning bidder will also get the chance to travel on a scientific expedition with the research team.
At least one species of proboscidean, a prehistoric relative of the elephant, lived in an aquatic environment, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The extinct water-lover, which belonged to the genus Moeritherium and lived around 37 million years ago, appears to have munched on freshwater plants and spent most of its days in swamps or river systems, according to Alexander Liu, an earth sciences expert at the University of Oxford and the lead author of the study. Read More
Researchers in Singapore say they have discovered a frog that has no lungs. Called the “Barbourula kalimantanensis,” the aquatic frog appears to do all of its breathing entirely through its skin. The frog’s shape—a highly flattened body that maximizes the surface area of its skin—allows it to absorb all necessary oxygen in its habitat, which is made up of cold, fast-flowing water.
David Bickford of the National University of Singapore, who found the frog during an expedition in Borneo, reportedly called complete lunglessness a “particularly rare evolutionary event that has probably only occurred three times.” The only other four-legged animals known to have no lungs are certain salamanders and one species of caecilian, “a limbless amphibian resembling an earthworm.” Read More