Our world leaves millions of intriguing mysteries waiting to be discovered, and in 2021, that included an impressive selection of new flora and fauna. Around the globe, a wide range of never-before recorded species were identified by international experts, with their habitats encompassing five out of the seven continents. From the depths of the ocean to forest floors, scorching deserts, and jungle oases, these once-in-a-lifetime discoveries provide a captivating peek into our earth's endless wonders.
Discovered in Madagascar by Dr. David Ebert, these coastal rays have a unique appearance that pays homage to its name — large, guitar-shaped heads that resemble the musical instrument. Residing in tropical and subtropical waters, they feature elongated bodies with a flattened trunk and ray-like wings, instantly attracting fishermen. Since they live so close to humans and are often overfished, these rays are one of the most endangered species of cartilaginous fish on earth.
Prior to 2021, scientists believed that the Star Octopus was part of a larger group inhabiting Australia's eastern and western coasts. New research, however, revealed that the western population is entirely unique — a new, distinct species all its own. Residing in the shallow waters between Shark Bay and Cape Le Grand, the Star Octopus is native to this segment of western Australia. Its scientific name, octopus djinda, means "star" in the local aboriginal language, and it's part of a sustainable fishery in the area.
Native to the remote environs of Easter Island and New Caledonia, this enticing creature lives up to its name with a vibrant orange hue that stands out among the corals. Its scientific name, Uokeaster ahi, stems from ancient Indo-Pacific legend. The mythical deity Uoke was believed to submerge Easter Island deep beneath the waves, and this striking sea star reflects that by residing in underwater reefs. Visible from the surface, it's a vital contributor to local reef systems, helping them remain healthy and benefitting every species in the area.
Located in northern Mexico, this astonishing beetle features eye-catching green, purple, and blue hues. It is hard to spot from the surface; however, it sticks to its habitat of muddy ditches deep within the vast landscape. So far, only 18 beetles have been collected from two sites in the state of Coahuila, making this species an incredibly rare find. Scientists believe that it could possibly reside in parts of Texas as well, so more news awaits this colorful creature.
Discovered at a whopping 3,000 feet above sea level, it took keen eyes to spot this minuscule weevil. It features bright metallic patterns composed of glittering disks, successfully deterring predators within their moss-covered forest habitat. A lucky find in the Philippines, this species was discovered deep within a small patch of untouched forest — one of few remaining in the area. If those trees had been chopped prior to discovery, there's a high chance that this beetle would have never been found.
This venomous beauty can only be found in one place on earth: Muza Village in Zayu, Tibet. With a grayish-brown back, irregular ring-shaped bands with grayish-brown stripes behind its eyes, and short fangs, the Nuijan Pit Viper looks every bit the predator. It's one of two new poisonous species recently discovered in Northern Asia, increasing the number of the Gloydius genus to 23. The other species, the Glacier Pit Viper, is more common and can be found all the way to southern Europe.
Native to central Peru's Río Huallaga basin, it took an international research team to find this hidden, dragon-like creature. Located deep within a premontane forest, the Feiruz Wood Lizard features a spectacular range of colors, including turquoise, green, gray, and brown. Since they're found deep within the undiscovered Peruvian Andes, it took seven years of field studies to formally describe these striking reptiles, which have one of the highest species recovery rates of the past century.
The Guiana Shield is a 1.7-billion-year-old geographical formation, so, naturally, it's home to some of the most intriguing biodiversity on the planet. This is the region that the Synapturanus zombie calls home. Since the species burrows underground, scientists had to dig deep to bring these frogs out with their bare hands. How were they originally spotted this far beneath the surface?
During heavy rainfall, male frogs call out loud and proud, catching the researcher's attention. With so much diversity in the region, scientists believe that six times as many Synapturanus species might be awaiting future discovery.
Located nearly 5,600 feet above sea level, these minuscule orchids measure just a few centimeters in height. The summit of Thailand's Khao Luang Mountain is the habitat for this species — one of just three members of the Corybas genus in the entire country.
Bangkok Forestry Herbarium staff found these flowers blossoming among greenery at this immense elevation, and after closer study, they realized that its characteristics, including unique papillae, didn't match any other in existence.
If you come across the killer tobacco plant far into the Australian arid zone, fear not: it poses no danger to humans or animals, but it's incredibly deadly to small insects. Completely covered in sticky glands, any insect that gets near it will be captured and killed instantly. The first wild tobacco plant to consume critters in this way, scientists aren't yet sure if this consumption occurs for nutrition or for something else entirely.
While it hasn't been classified as carnivorous just yet, research is well underway to reveal more details.
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