2023 has been a remarkably productive year for science. With COVID restrictions nearly entirely lifted, scientists have finally been able to return to business as mostly usual with field research and exploration. The results are already showing, and all across the world, folks have been finding new animals and fungi hiding in remarkable locations.
Read on to discover 10 of the most incredible new species we’ve discovered around the world in 2023 so far.
1. Tachymenoides harrisonfordi - Harrison Ford’s Slender Snake
This snake species, named after Harrison Ford as a nod to his snake-fearing portrayal of Indiana Jones, is commonly called Harrison Ford’s Slender Snake. It was discovered in Peru in August 2023, as part of a collaboration effort between researchers from the Peruvian Institute of Herpetology, the National University of San Marcos, the Center for Ornithology and Biodiversity, Illinois Wesleyan University, and Florida International University.
The species is entirely harmless to humans and, thankfully, prefers a diet of small reptiles and amphibians over a diet of explorers and archaeologists. It’s also rather small, maxing out at about 16 inches when it’s fully grown.
2. Scinax pyroinguinis - Common Name Not Yet Coined
Another species endemic to Peru, the tree frog, Scinax pyroinguinis, was found hiding out in the Amazon Rainforest in May of 2023. Named for the orange and black stripes on its inner legs, the genus and species name literally translates to ‘frog of fire groins’.
Germán Chávez, Wilmar Aznaran, Luis A. García-Ayachi, and Alessandro Catenazzi shared the discovery of this new species of frog and used their paper to warn of the dangers of potential habitat loss caused by wildfires in the region that may prevent the rare species from surviving long enough to be studied more thoroughly.
3. Hericium ophelieae -Common Name Not Yet Created
This new medicinal mushroom was found growing from several species of native trees in Southern Africa in March of 2023. It was discovered by Breyten van der Merwe, a third-year honor student at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.
The medicinal value of the new mushroom species is currently being studied, but many of its relatives, which include lion’s mane, also have proven medical applications, so hopes for potential health benefit applications are high. Further research is needed to see just how this mushroom might be able to be used to help people.
4. Horaglanis populi - Common Name Not Yet Created
This new species of air-breathing Catfish is endemic to underground water channels and wells in India. Similar to most other cave-dwelling fish, the catfish has no eyes or pigmentation, making it a rather odd-looking catfish.
The species was described in February 2023 by Rajeev Raghavan, Remya L. Sundar, C. P. Arjun, Ralf Britz, and Neelesh Dahanukar after a six-year-long citizen-science-backed project in India was performed.
5. Munidopsis girguisi, M. nautilus, M. testuda, M. cortesi, and M. hendrickxi. - Common Names Not Yet Created
These four species of Deep-sea Squat Lobsters were described early in the year, in January 2023. The collection of Munidopsis variants was found in the East Pacific and described by Paula C. Rodríguez-Flores, Charlotte A. Seid, Greg W. Rouse, and Gonzalo Giribet.
These lobsters are of particular scientific interest because of their ability to thrive abundantly in the harsh, abyssal depths of the region. However, their diversity is so notable that their discovery may result in revisions in classifications of the group of species.
6. Sibon irmelindicaprioae -DiCaprio's Snail-eating Snake
DiCaprio's Snail-eating Snake is a Non-venomous snake that resides in Eastern Panama and Western Colombia Not very surprisingly, its diet almost entirely consists of snails. Its jaw is specialized for reaching into the curved shell of local snails to grip the fleshy bits of the creatures and pull them out.
The species was discovered by Ecuadorian biologist Alejandro Arteaga and Panamanian biologist Abel Batista. They gave Leonardo DiCaprio naming rights to help raise awareness about the negative effects that illegal gold mining has on native forests and, especially, this species.
If you recognize the second part of the species name, you’re not alone; it’s named in honor of Leonardo DiCaprio’s mother, Irmelin Indenbirken.
7. Hyloscirtus tolkieni - The Rio Negro Stream Frog
The Rio Negro Stream Frog can be found in riparian habitats of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. It’s visually distinct from other frogs and is significantly larger than the species it is most closely related to.
It was named after J.R.R. Tolkien by Dr. Diego Cisneros-Heredi, who is reportedly a huge Lord of the Rings fan. The study itself opens with a mildly modified quote from The Hobbit which is rather endearing:
“In a stream in the forest there lived a Hyloscirtus. Not a nasty, dirty stream, with spoor of contamination and a muddy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy stream with nothing in it to perch on or to eat: it was a Hyloscirtus-stream, and that means environmental quality.”
8. Cyrtodactylus santana - The Bent-toed Gecko
The Bent-toed gecko, discovered at the beginning of the year in January, 2023 is a native inhabitant of East Timor, an island nation Southeast of Indonesia. Its natural range of habitat is remarkably small, and it has currently only been found in two different adjacent limestone caves.
This Cave-dwelling creature was discovered during a collaboration between the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Conservation International, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The writers of the study, Kin Onn Chan, L. Lee Grismer, Fernando Santana, Pedro Pinto, Frances W. Loke, and Nathan Conaboy, report much optimism about finding more related species with further research.
9. Podogymnura intermedia and Podogymnura minima - The Intermediate and Small Soft-Furred Hedgehogs
This two-for-one deal of species discovery involves two closely related species of soft-furred hedgehogs. In the eastern part of Mindanao in the Philippines, these species have a tiny range.
These two new variants of the soft-furred hedgehog are notably smaller in size than the one that was previously known before 2023.
The description of this species was made in collaboration by Danilo S. Balete, Eric Rickart, Dakota Rowsey, Lawrence R. Heany, Roselyn Quidlat, and Link Olson. The three species that are now known, though rather similar-looking, can be told apart by both their size and the softness of their fur (adorable!).
10. Promachocrinus fragarius - The Antarctic Strawberry Feather Star
The Antarctic strawberry feather star is, perhaps, one of the most interesting creatures we have yet to find this year. Thus, I just had to save it for last.
This Alien-like species claims the waters of the Southern Ocean as its home. Its strawberry-like shape and color inspired its name, but the internet - and even some reputable journals - have seemed to decide that it looks much more close to a face-hugger than any sort of benign berry.
Notably, the species of sea star has 20 arms which it uses to freely swim about underwater. It uses these arms to thrive in depths between 200 - 3000 feet deep. It also naturally has a strawberry hue which is not present in any of the preserved specimens that have been making their rounds on social media.
This species was described in July 2023 by Wilson and Rouse McLaughlin when the DNA of a large collection of feather stars were tested and were shown to be distinct from each other.
With several months of the year still left, we already have a remarkable collection of creatures new to us. With the current rate of discovery, it’s likely we’ll find more by December! But, this close to the end of the year, it’s valuable to take a pause and appreciate all the steps we’ve made in further understanding the biodiversity of Earth.
I, for one, look forward to seeing what else scientists will be able to discover about our beautiful, vibrant planet!