There are an estimated 5 to 10 million species on the planet, and humans so far have discovered and documented only 1.3 million of them. That means it’s possible that 90% of life on earth is unknown to us, and due to climate change and habitat destruction it is likely that many species will go extinct before we ever find them.
The Amazon region is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. With much of it unexplored by modern science, it is likely to be teeming with species never seen by the rest of the world. In fact, between 2010-2014 over 400 new species were documented in the Amazon rainforest. These included a vegetarian piranha, a bizarre looking new species of ‘spaghetti’ passion flower, and a monkey that purrs like a cat! In 2016 scientists discovered a new and completely unique coral reef at the mouth of the Amazon river. It is almost 600 miles long and had never been discovered before because it exists where coral reefs aren’t supposed to: In the heavily sedimented waters that mark where the amazon flows into the ocean. Just last week scientists published a paper documenting a new species of biofluorescent frog. The polka dot tree frog, found in the Brazilian Amazon, shines a neon green colour under UV light. No one knows the purpose of this natural phenomenon, and whilst the trait is fairly common in marine life it is much more unusual in terrestrial animals and has never before been seen in frogs.
These discoveries are just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, with countless other species waiting to be uncovered. The search for new species leads to the discovery of new medicines and helps us understand more about the planet we call home. Apart from being fascinating in their own right, these discoveries could hold the key to solving many global human issues. But perhaps more importantly, the closer we get to measuring global biodiversity, the better we can understand our impact on it and how best to protect it. It is vital that we protect these incredible rainforests, before their secrets are lost forever.
Spaghetti passion flower. (Photo: João Batista Fernandes da Silva/WWF)
Titi monkey (photo: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/files/2013/10/55631-cb1340752901.jpg)
Biofluorescent frog (Photo: Julian Faivovich and Carlos Taboda)