Fish with Black Panther-inspired name one of 71 new species found in 2019 (Cirrhilabrus wakanda, Luiz Rocha © 2018 California Academy of Sciences)

Fish with Black Panther-inspired name one of 71 new species found in 2019

The California Academy of Sciences named a host of new species last year – here are our favourites.

In 2019, the California Academy of Sciences, the US equivalent of London’s Natural History Museum, described a multitude of new species, spanning five continents and three oceans. Here are some of the most intriguing specimens they added to the tree of life.

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You can find out more here, but below are some of our favourite new species:

1

Cordylus phonolithos

Cordylus phonolithos (© 2019 Ishan Agarwal)use
© 2019 Ishan Agarwal

This girdled lizard is found on Serra da Neve Inselberg, Namibe Province, southwestern Angola.

2

Janolus tricellariodes

Janolus tricellarioides (Terry Gosliner © 2018 California Academy of Sciences)
© Terry Gosliner/California Academy of Sciences

This dazzling sea slug species is found in the Philippines.

3

Lola konavoka

Lola konavoka (2) (Durrell Ubick © 2019 California Academy of Sciences)
© Durrell Ubick/California Academy of Sciences

This cave-dwelling harvestman is adapted to life in the dark. It is found in Croatia and is already critically endangered.

Read more about new animal species:

4

Siphamia arnazae

Siphamia arnazae (2) (© 2019 Mark Erdmann)
© Mark Erdmann

This cardinalfish species has giant, cat-like eyes and is found in Papua New Guinea.

5

Cirrhilabrus wakanda

Fish with Black Panther-inspired name one of 71 new species found in 2019 (Cirrhilabrus wakanda, Luiz Rocha © 2018 California Academy of Sciences)
© Luiz Rocha/California Academy of Science
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This colourful, shimmery fish was named the ‘vibranium fairy wrasse’ after the fictional metal found in the Marvel Universe that was used to construct Captain America’s shield and Black Panther’s suit. Its Latin name is a reference to the fictional country of Wakanda – home of Black Panther. The fish was discovered at a depth of 60 metres in the ocean off Zanzibar, Tanzania.

What is the minimum difference a species must show in order to be classed as a new species?

Asked by: Adam King, Huddersfield

This is less straightforward than it seems. The concept of species, as a way of classifying animals and plants, relies on finding some trait that all members of that species share, and which is unique to them. This works pretty well for many organisms, but species are continually being lumped together or split into two as biologists search for the perfect classification system.

There are currently at least 26 different ways to define the concept of a species. Some consider physical or genetic similarity, while others consider whether populations interbreed – or whether they could if they weren’t separated by a geographical barrier, such as a mountain range or ocean. Other definitions of species focus on the evolutionary history of the organism, grouping species according to how recently they shared a common ancestor.

Even if biologists could agree on a single definition of a species, identifying a point at which a new species is created would still be difficult. Theoretically, the minimum difference could be a single mutated gene, marking a fork in the evolutionary tree where one species splits into two.

However, biologists almost certainly wouldn’t recognise the creation of the new species until later, when the genetic mutation manifested as a difference in the way the animal looked or behaved.

The closest we’ve come to this was probably in 2016, when researchers at the Janelia Research Campus in Virginia artificially altered the genome of a species of Drosophila fruit fly. This change to a single gene altered the frequency of the courtship ‘song’ produced by the male fly.

The insects that carried this gene could still mate with the wild population, so they couldn’t be considered a separate species by most definitions. But they preferred to mate with similarly mutated flies, and if this mutation had occurred in the wild, it’s possible that this might have resulted in the evolution of a new species.

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