January 31st, 2012 by

By Katrina Marland

One thing that constantly amazes me about the environment is the staggering amount of diversity that you find in nature. Just the other day, this amazement resurfaced when the International Institute for Species Exploration released its “State of Observed Species” (SOS) report for 2011. This report sums up all of the species that we already know of and details the new species discovered in 2011. Actually, because it takes some time to confirm the findings, the data available for the SOS usually shows numbers for a couple years prior. Last year’s report is no exception, but that doesn’t make its findings any less impressive. The 2011 SOS report shows that in 2009, there were 19,232 new species discovered. Really, 19,232 new species in just one year!

(Credit: International Institute for Species Exploration, Arizona State University)

So what were these new species? A lot of them — almost 62 percent, in fact — were insects. For instance, 2009 saw the discovery of no less than 3,485 different species of beetles. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of bugs, but that’s pretty darn impressive. The next largest group of species was vascular plants, of which trees are a member. Discoveries included new species of orchids, daffodils and even asparagus.

We hear about new species most often when they are of the cute and cuddly variety, and that usually means mammals. The 2011 report revealed that of the thousands of new species discovered in 2009, only 41 of them were mammals. The majority of those were bats, which is perhaps good news since so many known species of bats aren’t doing so well. Of the new amphibians recently discovered, almost 90 percent were frogs. You can view the full report here to learn more about the different types of new species discovered. One thing worth noting is that forests seem to be an eternal cache of new species. Whether it’s the cowboy frog recently found in the Suriname tropical forest or the new snakes found in Tanzania’s forests or the newest type of lemur to be found in Madagascar, forests always seem to hold enough life to boggle the mind.

The total of known species in the world is creeping ever closer to the two million mark. This year’s report brings the grand total to 1,941,939 species. And it seems that almost every year, the number of new species discovered is even greater than the last. These gains in knowledge are enough to make me regrettably contradict one of my all-time favorite TV shows: space is not the final frontier. We aren’t anywhere near done with Earth, yet.