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How Many New Species Are Discovered in One Year? Take a Guess!


Copyright 2012-2013, Kris Heeter, Ph.D.

Ever since I was a child, one of my favorite movies was the classic "Dr. Doolittle".

I was so fascinated by his excursions, his ability to talk the animals, and the discoveries he made.

Looking back, I suspect that "Dr. Doolittle" influenced my choice of study over the years.

I've always been enthralled by the complexity and diversity of life. As a child, I dreamed of trekking the rainforests or exploring the oceans to discover new and exotic new life.

In some ways my dream has been fulfilled - I've seen aspects of life for the first time that no one else has ever seen. It's an amazing to discover something that no one else has ever seen before. And while I no longer do that type of research, I'm still fascinated by the new species that zoologists, marine biologists, entomologists, ecologists, and microbiologists discover.

A released report by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University compiles a list of species that were identified in 2009. While this report was just released (in 2012), note that it takes several years to complete a year's worth of data.

The aforementioned Species Institute mines the international literature for evidence of newly named species. Discoveries are made not only by scientists, but by amateur species explorers as well.

How many new species were recently discovered in a year?

I'm going to save the number of newly identified species until the very end - keeping you in suspense!

In the meantime, I'll give you a sampling of what was discovered and let you take a guess as to how many species were identified in one year's time.

Place your vote and then continue on and see if you guessed correctly at the end of this article!

An Overview

Of the new species discovered in 2009:

  • >50% are insects
  • 11% are plants
  • 7% are fungi
  • 5% are microbes
  • 3% are chordates (vertebrates)
  • And the remainder are other forms of invertebrates (no backbone)

Sample of New Species Discovered in the 21st Century

Fun statistics

Nearly 2 million species have been identified since 1758.

It is estimated that 10 million additional plant and animal species still await discovery.

It has been speculated that up to 20 million new marine microbial species may still be discovered.

Giant Bioluminescent Squid

Why is the identification of new species worth studying?

It all boils down to understanding how species interact and how those interactions impact our environment.

While it may seem insignificant, the extinction of a species or the creation/evolution of a new species can have profound effects on the world around us. These changes are often indicators of the health of our environment.

"As the number of species increases, so too does our understanding of the biosphere, ...we increase our ability to understand the function of ecosystems and make effective, fact-based decisions regarding conservation." - Quentin Wheeler, a professor and entomologist at Arizona State University and the founding director of the species institute.


New Species Discovery Updates

While 2010 and 2011 data and specimens are still being analyzed, the species exploration continues. Thousands of new species continue to be discovered!

In a 42-day research expedition to the island of Luzon in the Philippines, over a dozen researchers found 300-500 new species of which140 have been formally documented and published. The remaining specimens continue to be analyzed!

And, recently, four new dwarf chameleons were discovered in Madagascar!

"Can I have the envelope please?"

So, what do you think?

How many species were identified in 2009?

(drum roll)


...of which only 41 were mammals!

All total, between 2000-2009, there were 176,311 newly discovered species.

Some of these species are extraordinary and beautiful!

Images are rare and typically copyrighted by those that discover them. The International Institute for Species Exploration does have a sampling of photos that I highly encourage you to check out.

The Institute has a great website and is a wonderful science resource for teachers. Kids who love to explore cool science topics will enjoy it as well.

The amount of biodiversity on the planet is incredible. Continued research and exploration not only allows scientists to make these new discoveries but helps raise awareness on how important it is to preserve our natural habitats.

Looking to the future

New species continue to be identified each year, but Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University, estimates that only two million of an estimated 10 to 12 million living species have been identified to date.

In a recent press release he notes: “Now, knowing that millions of species may not survive the 21st century, it is time to pick up the pace. We are calling for a NASA-like mission to discover 10 million species in the next 50 years. This would lead to discovering countless options for a more sustainable future while securing evidence of the origins of the biosphere.”

Who knows what obscure and interesting species have yet to be discovered!


Kris Heeter (author) from Indiana on February 22, 2012:

@SanneL - it is sad that many will become extinct with the evironmental issues. Although in doing the reearch for this, I did find that a handful that were previously thought to be extinct have been "rediscovered" again. Sometimes small pockets of a species still exist that scientists are not aware of and they are resiliant enough to survive. That's rare but still a neat find.

SanneL from Sweden on February 22, 2012:

Wow, Fascinating! My guess was way to low. With the environmental issue, species have been and will be extinct. It's so disturbing to think about. However, it's nice to know that so many new species emerge. Thank you for a very interesting hub. You have put a lot of fantastic research into it. Thanks for sharing!

Tony Lawrence from SE MA on February 21, 2012:

@cat on a soapbox: Ecological niches may backfill, but species can disappear outright. That can cause a domino effect, and the "backfill" could take millions of years. In the meantime, we may find ourselves in a very hostile environment.

Kris Heeter (author) from Indiana on February 20, 2012:

@cat on a soapbox - very good point! As some cease to exist, others will thrive and new species do evolve. With more and more environmental pressures, enough genetic changes will occur within current species to create a new species.

Kris Heeter (author) from Indiana on February 20, 2012:

@Blissful writer - my guess was very low too. I suspect there are many more new species of insects to be found, especially in the rainforests.

Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on February 20, 2012:

I prefer to keep a positive outlook on earth's biodiversity and sustainability. Although there are many species that have become extinct or are now endangered, there are many discovered every year and more yet unknown. In all forms of life, some must cease to exist so that others can thrive. Thank you for your research and excellent presentation! I found it fascinating!

Christopher Wanamaker from Arizona on February 16, 2012:

It really is quite amazing to think about how little we really know about the world. Just under 20,000 new species in a year is quite a feat. Great information, great hub!

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on February 11, 2012:

Thanks for reminding us all that our world still has undiscovered secrets to reveal. Great hub!

BlissfulWriter on February 11, 2012:

That's amazing number. My guess was way too low. It goes to show that insects are the biodiverse category of life in the planet.

Kris Heeter (author) from Indiana on February 11, 2012:

@TFScientist - it is very sad. There are so many species we'll never have the honor of seeing or studying due to this lack of equilibrium with nature.

Kris Heeter (author) from Indiana on February 11, 2012:

@tirelesstraveler - thanks for adding to the discussion. Technology and it's capabilities can be amazing. When I did my graduate work 20 years ago, it took 2-3 years just to sequence one gene. Now with the new technology, whole genomes can be sequenced in less than a week. Mose of my graduate research, which took 7 years, could be accomplished now in just a month or two due to new technology...(I try to to dwell too much on that fact as it's kind of depressing!)

@molometer - looking forward to that hub!

Rhys Baker from Peterborough, UK on February 11, 2012:

Great hub. Voted up, shared and interesting. The depressing thing is, of course, that we are wiping out entire species that we have yet to even discover. As a species we need to establish an equilibrium with the natural world, instead of relying on constant and unceasing growth in all things.

Micheal from United Kingdom on February 09, 2012:

Hi Kris, I will write a hub about my time at the 'London Zoo' to give it, it's local name. I found it fascinating. Wrote a 50,000 report on my findings. I'll edit it a little lol.

Judy Specht from California on February 09, 2012:

Incredible hub- Amazing how many things in the world only technology can unlock.

Kris Heeter (author) from Indiana on February 09, 2012:

@alocsin - thanks for voting!. I struggled with how to the poll. It didn't turn out "scientific" enough for me - needed moreof those qualifiers - but I thought it might get too confusing:)

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 09, 2012:

Yaay, I was right! I picked 10,000, though 20,000 was closer, it was invalidated by the "more than" qualifier. Great article. Voting this Up and Interesting.

Kris Heeter (author) from Indiana on February 09, 2012:

@Pcunix - Yes, I agree - we are getting there. Genome sequencing is breaking that wide open. Kind of off the subject, we've got a group on campus that is extracting DNA from fossls and sequencing - it's amazing that it can still be recovered and analyzed.

Tony Lawrence from SE MA on February 09, 2012:

What's going to really be fascinating is when enough time has passed that we don't need fossils to show major evolutionary changes. No doubt the, umm, "less intelligent" will find some other explanation still, though..

Kris Heeter (author) from Indiana on February 08, 2012:

@molometer - I would amazed too. I thought *maybe* 1000 species per year. Never dreamed the number would be that high.

I think we are going to see the biggest explosion in identification of microbes over the next 10-20 years. New genome sequencing methods that have just come out will revolutionize how microscopic organisms are identified.

I would love to hear or read a hub about your time at the Zoological Gardens at Regents - sounds intriguing! Studying scientists? Sounds intriguing.

Micheal from United Kingdom on February 08, 2012:

My word


...of which only 41 were mammals! That many. I really must get out more.

What an amazing number of 'mammals' I really need to catch up here.

I actually did my internship at the Zoological Gardens at Regents park London many years ago but I was studying the scientists.

This was an inspiring hub and well put together. Thanks Kris. Voted up and awesome interesting and useful SHARING