Here are our top five favourite critters that science has turned up over the last decade, from South American jungle to the sands of the Sahara…
Nature supplies a steady stream of unknown insects, sea creatures and bacteria, but the olinguito was the first new species of predatory land mammal in the Western hemisphere for more than 35 years. The smallest member of the raccoon family, native to the elevated forests of the Andes, the olinguito is nocturnal, omnivorous, tree-dwelling, and almost unbearably cute.
As with many new species, the olinguito had been hiding in plain sight. There were already specimens in the archives of the Chicago Field Museum – instrumental in the discovery – while Washington Zoo had harboured a live olinguito in the 1970s. Keepers had mistaken it for a common olingo, and were mystified when the animal failed to breed, according to the BBC.
You don’t need to be an entomologist to peg that a creature called the ‘bone-house wasp’ isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Unearthed in 2014, this remorseless insect quickly gained notoriety for its macabre nesting practices. The mother is said to lay her eggs inside a hollow stem, before sealing up the entrance with up to 13 ant carcasses, creating a chemical and physical barrier between the outside world and her young.
With a venomous sting and a taste for spider flesh, the bone-house wasp is a natural friend of arachnophobes, and pure nightmare fuel for everybody else.
I made some gifs of my favourite cartwheeling spider video and I totally forgot about them. Here's one. pic.twitter.com/OwCawAn8SB
— アキラ, Fifth Columnist ☭ 🇵🇸 (@Monochromation) February 8, 2019
‘Cartwheeling’ is not a common description for any animal, but for cebrennus rechenbergi it’s just about the only word available. When threatened this eight-legged freak launches itself head over abdomen, and tumbles down sand dunes at remarkable speeds.
Initially confused with a similar Tunisian spider (which does not do cartwheels), by the time the species was classified and named in 2015, it had already been the subject of academic papers outlining its use in biometric robotics.
We are not making this up. To repeat, this is a real moth, and was discovered in 2017. Little is known about this brand new bug, except that it resides around the border between Mexico and California, has dark, mottled wings, and is roughly the size of a postage stamp. It also has a strange, light-coloured mop atop its tiny head, from which stems its noteworthy name.
The announcement made waves on social media, and prompted a bemused exposé in the New Yorker. “Twitterers struggled to decide which detail was ripest for parody,” wrote Alan Burdick, “that the moth is Mexican-American; that it’s distinct in part by dint of its small genitalia; or that, like all moths, it has a habit of aiming directly for the flame.”
Paedophryne amanuensis is one of those critters with a single, defining characteristic – it’s really, really, really, really, really…small. Averaging 7.7mm in length (roughly the diameter of a pencil), this micro-frog from Papua New Guinea is officially the world’s smallest vertebrate, a record it stole by a whisker from an obscure species of Southeast Asian fish.
The frog was first found in 2009, but it was named and classified in 2012.