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Meet the 20,000 new species we discovered in a single year

Illustration for article titled Meet the 20,000 new species we discovered in a single year

The latest State of Observed Species report is out. And biologists might have just earned the title of Hardest-Working People in Science, discovering a staggering 19,232 species in just one year, including nearly 10,000 new types of insects.


To put that in perspective, when Carl Linnaeus began his taxonomic organization of all known species in the 1750s, there were only 10,000 known species. In 2009 alone — the most recent year the report covers — scientists were able to discover twice that number, and add significantly to the current tally of two million known species. The species were discovered by a mix of professional scientists and amateur species hunters, although hopefully not "hunters" in the traditional sense, of course.

Illustration for article titled Meet the 20,000 new species we discovered in a single year

Unsurprisingly, insects and invertebrates made up the vast majority of the newly discovered species, totaling 13,903 previously unknown species. Beetles were the most common discoveries, accounting for 3,485 in all, including 568 rove beetles, 421 ground beetles, 369 long-horned beetles, 356 leaf beetles, and 228 scarab beetles. Most of the rest of the new species were made up of plants, fungi, and microbes.

Illustration for article titled Meet the 20,000 new species we discovered in a single year

Still, it wasn't all just little stuff. 41 new mammals were discovered in 2009 alone, about half of which were bats and another third were rodents. There were also 133 new frogs, 38 lizards, 31 snakes, and two new turtles. While 43 previously unknown birds were discovered, it's hard to call most of them "new" — 34 of these species were actually fossil specimens from now extinct species. You can get another sense of the diversity of new species discovered in the cool word-cloud on the left, in which the size of each type of species reflects how many were found in 2009.

According to the report's author, Arizona State entomologist Quentin Wheeler, there could be another 10 million species still completely unknown to science that still await discovery, but even that figure may be hopelessly low. Recent discoveries suggest far more genetic diversity, and thus more species diversity, than previously imagined, and Wheeler says this could mean another 20 million species await discovery - and that's justthe marine microbes.


In a statement, Wheeler explains that understanding just how many new species out there are helps us understanding the environment as a whole:

"As the number of species increases, so too does our understanding of the biosphere. It is through knowledge of the unique attributes of species that we illuminate the origin and evolutionary history of life on our planet. As we find out where species live and how they interact, we increase our ability to understand the function of ecosystems and make effective, fact-based decisions regarding conservation."


For a bunch more on the report and all the new species discovered, check out Arizona State's International Institute for Species Exploration.

Via ASU. Image of caterpillar by kaibara87 on Flickr. Pie chart and word cloud by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University


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Derek C. F. Pegritz

Yeah. We're definitely in the middle of a great anthropocentric extinction event. Every year we discover HOW many new species, and yet we think that the planet is *dying* because other more well-known species are going extinct? Pfft. I do not deny the fact that human impact has driven a huge number of species to extinction...but that's evolution. Human civilization is just another environmental catastrophe in our planet's long, long, long history of environmental catastrophes—and whether or not *we* go extinct is irrelevant: life on this planet will go on, and our species' brief moment in the sun will be little more than another KT Boundary to some future lifeform's paleontologists.