Popa langur, a critically endangered monkey that lives in Myanmar, is one of the newly described species.
A monkey that lives on the edge of an extinct volcano, an amphibian that breathes through its skin and an armored slug are among the 503 new species named by London’s Natural History Museum this year.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum may have been closed to the public for the longest duration of time since World War II, but researchers continued to toil behind the scenes, according to a news release published Tuesday.
These hundreds of new species have been described in 2020 by researchers working with specimens from the museum’s vast collection.
Describing a new species means gathering information on the form and structure of an organism, writing up the research in a paper and sending it for review by the scientific community, Ken Norris, head of life sciences at the Natural History Museum, told CNN.
“You’re asking whether or not that new specimen is sufficiently different from anything else that’s been seen before to be regarded as a new species,” Norris said. “So you’re describing it for the first time.”
Among this year’s newly described species is the Popa Iangur (Trachypithecus popa), a monkey that lives on the slopes of an extinct volcano in Myanmar.
Already it is considered to be critically endangered, with 200-260 individuals living in the wild, but experts hope that naming it will help in the monkey’s conservation, according to the museum.
“The very basic stuff of naming things, or recognizing that they’re distinct, elevates their importance in conservation quite rapidly,” Norris said. “As soon as you know that then it becomes an instant priority for conservation whereas before it wasn’t.”
A dozen new reptiles and amphibians were described this year, including a crested lizard from Borneo, two new species of frog and nine new snakes.
The museum collection also contained a single specimen of a new species of lungless worm salamander (Oedipina ecuatoriana), an amphibian that breathes through its skin, which was collected more than a century ago.
Beetles make up the largest number on the list, with 170 new species named, followed by bees and wasps with 70 new species.
One of those – Bombus tibeticus – lives on the Tibetan Plateau in Mongolia at 5,640 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest recorded species of bumblebee.
There were also 51 species of snails, nine species of moths, six new species of centipedes, nine flatworms and one butterfly described in 2020.
Scientists also described 122 new fossil species, including Armilimax pauljamisoni, which looks like a kind of armored slug, and a giant fossil wombat-like marsupial named Mukupirna nambensis.
The giant marsupial lived 25 million years ago in what is now Australia, and would have grown to a similar size as a black bear.
Researchers described 10 new species of mineral, of which there are only around 6,000 known species in the world.
And Norris doesn’t expect any decrease in the number of newly described species in coming years.
“At the moment we think that as a basic guess maybe 20% of life has been described in some shape or form,” he said, leaving a lot of life still to be described.