New Species Are Hiding In Plain Sight

19 July, 2007

‘Cryptic species’ are look-alikes.
Two or more species that have no visible differences, but have different genetic makeup- different to the point that there is no crossbreeding between the species.

Cryptic species can come from completely different evolutionary and genetic sources, or they can originally come from the same genetic background, evolving on different lines until they are no longer the same species. In either case, they are genetically incompatible animals, but somehow they still look identical.

In other words- you can only tell them apart by doing genetic tests, or by watching very carefully to see if there are separate breeding groups. Considering this, it is understandable that many of the cryptic species are only now coming to light, and many more may never be found.

The recent rise in genetic profiling of animal species has led to the discovery of literally thousands of cryptic species – animals which previously had been assumed to be of one species have now been found to be genetically unique.

German researchers Markus Pfenninger and Klaus Schwenk noticed an “exponential growth of publications on cryptic species.” They saw the confusion and lack of information surrounding this growing issue, and they decided to do some calculations.

Up until now, it’s been believed that cryptic species were more commonly seen among insects and reptiles, and that they tended to evolve more frequently in the tropics. However, after defining more than 22,000 cases of cryptic species discovered in the past twenty-eight years, the two researchers determined that look-alike species are found in similar frequency regardless of the type of animal or region of the world.

The this information has implications for every aspect of the bological sciences. Biodiversity projects, envronmental conservation, pathological studies, and even human health care could be affected by cases of unnoticed species, or mistaken identities.
How many more could be out there, now that we know that they’re more widespread than anyone thought?

Find the full article (with graphs) by Markus Pfenninger and Klaus Schwenk at BioMed’s free online open access library. It will be available in PDF until the HTML version is prepared in a day or two.


Two New Species Survived Iceland’s Ice Age

19 July, 2007

icelandshrimp.jpgScientists at Holar University College and the University of Iceland have discovered two species of groundwater amphipods (one of which is in its own family). These are currently the only species known to be endemic to Iceland.

Bjarni K. Kristjánsson, the scientist who found the two species, believes that their presence in Iceland can only be explained if they are leftovers from the last ice age.

From the EurekAlert article:

“Groundwater amphipods are poor at dispersal, and can not be transported with birds or humans,” says Jörundur Svavarsson. One of these new species falls within a new family of amphipods, which indicates that the species has been a long time in Iceland. “The time since the end of the last glaciation is not enough for a family to evolve,” says Svavarsson. Kristjansson and Svavarsson find it likely that the amphipod came to Iceland as early as 30-40 million years ago, when the volcanic island was being formed. “If our theory is right, we have discovered the oldest inhabitants of Iceland, and that can help us further understand how Iceland was formed,” says Kristjansson.

Full article at EurekAlert!

Image credit: Thorkell Heidarsson

Another New Phylum!

5 July, 2007
I just did a quick search and found this as well!

Discovery of undersea creature leads to new archaeal phylum
By Kate Dalke
May 9, 2002

A new microbe has been discovered in an undersea hydrothermal vent off the coast of Iceland. The creature, named Nanoarchaeum equitans, is a member of the Archaea, the domain of life that is separate from plants, animals, and bacteria. The microbe does not fit any existing taxonomic groups, so the researchers who discovered it have proposed a new archaeal phylum called Nanoarchaeota, which stands for ‘dwarf archaea.’


Perhaps not terribly impressive, but it IS a new PHYLUM!

Read the rest of this article at

New PHYLUM Discovered!

5 July, 2007

November 2, 2006.GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Genetic analysis of an obscure, worm-like creature retrieved from the depths of the North Atlantic has led to the discovery of a new phylum, a rare event in an era when most organisms have already been grouped into major evolutionary categories.


Scientists have long been puzzled by the half-inch-long creature known by its scientific name of Xenoturbella and first retrieved from the Baltic Sea more than 50 years ago. Early genetic research identified it as a type of mollusk. But then scientists discovered the mollusk-like DNA actually resulted not from the creature itself, but from its close association to clams and likely habit of eating mollusk eggs, Moroz said. The Xenoturbella does not seem to have a brain, gut or gonads, making it unique among living animals.

More precise genomic sequencing at the Whitney Lab – where Moroz and his collaborators identified about 1,300 genes including mitochondrial genes – helped to reveal a surprise: Xenoturbella belongs to its own phylum, a broad class of organisms lying just below kingdom in taxonomic classification. It is one of only about 32 such phyla in the animal kingdom. “During the last 50 to 60 years, only a few new phyla have been established,” Moroz said.

Perhaps more significant, the analysis of Xenoturbella seems to confirm that human beings and other chordates share a common ancestor, a first in science. Its extreme characteristics suggest that this common ancestor – one the creature shares with its sister phyla, echinoderms and hemichordates, as well as chordates — did not have a brain or central nervous system.

Read this entire article at University of Florida News.

Find the BBC News release here. has a very good writeup on the Xenoturbella, with explanations of the historical and recent issues of classifying this little marvel .

Side note: When I first started this site, I thought about adding a category for “New Phylum”, but figured it wasn’t likely it would ever be used…. Seems that I needed to ‘free my imagination’! SO! I am thrilled to announce the addition of the new category!

Surfer finds Weird Whale!

16 August, 2006

A teenage surfer in Australia noticed something sticking out of a boulder.
When researcher Erich Fitzgerald began studying the fossil, he soon realized it was an entirely new Family of whale species!

(Image: R Start/Museum Victoria)

From the article:

“Fitzgerald found that the fossil had specific features in the facial region and the base of the skull that marked it as a member of the baleen whale group, which today includes the enormous blue whale.

But unlike modern baleen whales, which eat by filtering tiny krill and plankton from water, the fossil whale had teeth. It also had enormous eyes.

He says it was impossible to fit the fossil whale into existing branches of the evolutionary tree based on its shape, size and characteristics.

“This is something completely new. This was an entirely new family, which is a rare occurrence.”

This new family of small, highly predatory, toothed baleen whales has been named in honour of the town of Jan Juc and its discoverer Staumn Hunder. It is called Janjucetus hunderi.

“…they were truly bizarre, and living in ways completely unlike any baleen whales that have existed over the past 20 million years.”

Find the entire article about these huge-eyed, fanged whales at News in

Discovery of Furry Crustacean Yields New Family

18 July, 2006

March 2006

Scientists find Yeti Crab!
An international team of marine biologists recently announced the discovery of Kiwa hirsuta, a ten-legged crustacean that resembles a lobster covered with what looks like silky, blond fur. Dubbed the “Yeti crab,” the species was discovered 900 hundred miles south of Easter Island in the South Pacific, living near a hydrothermal vent at an ocean depth of about 7,540 feet. The biologists were conducting a diving cruise to learn how geographical barriers affect the distribution of animals living near vents along the Pacific and Pacific-Antarctic Ridges.

Read the entire article, and find out more about the hairy crab at the fantastic Smithsonian National Zoo website.