by Jackie Caine, Senior Science Policy Adviser at the Society of Biology
New species of animals and plants are discovered on a surprisingly regular basis; in Europe alone, around 700 species are being discovered each year, and that doesn’t take into account the hugely rich diversity of tropical forests including the Amazon. Insects account for most of newly discovered species, including Coleoptera (beetles) which has by far the largest number of species in any order. New species of fish are also common, with around two new species of fish discovered every week!
Recent discoveries include a Sri Lankan tarantula (Poecilotheria rajaei) which is eight inches across, two new species of Mouse Lemur in Madagascar, and the Rinjani scops owl (Otus jolandae) which was discovered on the island on Lombok in Sweden.
Often, different species appear so similar that they can only be distinguished by genetic sequencing (as was the case with the Mouse Lemur discoveries), and advances in this technology have developed our understanding of the relatedness between species and their evolutionary history.
Rarer is the discovery of a new genus where a group of organisms have such distinct characteristics from a group of known species. This week, a new genus of bat was discovered in South Sudan, named Niumbaha meaning ‘rare’ in Zande, the language where the bat was captured. The species, Niumbaha superba, is black with striking white stripes earning its nickname the ‘Badger Bat’, and is a lesson in genus distinction after first being captured in Congo in 1939 and wrongly identified as belonging to the Glauconycteris genus. Biologist Professor DeeAnn Reeder who was part of the South Sudan team, later recognised the wrong classification through distinct physical features such as the cranial characters, size, ears and wings.
This is an incredible discovery for an incredible mammal; the 1,100 species of bat account for 20% of mammal diversity worldwide. The team’s discovery also highlights the biological importance of conflict areas in terms of biodiversity; the protection and understanding of which is vital for the rebuilding of resilient ecosystems and the health and wealth of that nation.
Flora and Fauna International and the Wildlife Conservation Society are currently the only two international conservation organisations present and active in South Sudan. For more information on their work, see: