Natural History Scientists Discovering New Species of Life
Pursuing their research around the world - from Panama to Polynesia - National Museum of Natural History scientists have discovered and named many new species of plant and animals. Charles Darwin would not have been at all surprised at our discoveries. If you discovered a new species, what would you name it?
A rain forest canopy beetle Agra dax Erwin from Panama was described in 2000 by entomologist Dr. Terry Erwin and named for the Deep Space Nine (Star Trek) character Jadzia Dax. Dr. Erwin named another beetle from the Brazilian Amazon Agra sasquatch because of its “big feet.”
Agra suprema from Brazil and Bolivia was the name given to the most impressive member of the group of beetles. Agra eowilsoni was named for eminent biologist and author E. O. Wilson.
Masiakasaurus knopfleri is a small (two-meter, or six-ft-long), predatory dinosaur that lived 65 million years ago in Madagascar. It was discovered by expeditions from Stony Brook University, in New York, and described by Dr. Matthew Carrano. It is named after the Malagasy word "masiaka,"which means vicious, and after Mark Knopfler, lead guitarist of the British rock band, Dire Straits, whose music entertained the expeditions’ members.
Say It with Flowers
Heliconia samperiana, discovered in Colombia, by Dr. W. John Kress, and Dr Julio Betancur, was named for Dr. Cristián Samper, botanist, ecologist, and director of NMNH, to honor his work in identifying and conserving tropical plants.
Dr. Kress and his colleagues also discovered and Smithatris myanmarensisand Hedychium bordelonianum in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar.
With a Russian colleague, Dr. Hans-Dieter Sues discovered a diverse, 90-million-year-old assemblage of dinosaurs in Uzbekistan. Their finds included Levnesovia transoxiana, a precursor of duckbilled dinosaurs.
Dr. Helen James was examining a friend’s fossil bird collection in Hawaii. She saw what appeared to be a bent and dusty stick. She was about to throw the stick away when she realized that it was the bird’s upper bill. That a bird with such an unexpected bill shape had once existed was so surprising to her that she had to take a walk outside before she could speak. The new fossil species was the giant nukupuu, Hemignathus vorpalis, named for the vorpal blade in Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky.”
Collecting specimens for the National Zoo’s Monitoring and Assessment of Biodiversity Program in Gabon in 2002, Dr. Brian Schmidt caught a stout little olive and yellow bird he’d never seen before.
Journal searches, comparisons with birds in several museum collections, and genetics research confirmed that the bird was a new species of forest robin,
Stiphrornis pyrrholaemus, named for its
Dr. Nancy Knowlton, Sant Chair for Marine Science, studies ocean invertebrates, including “snapping” shrimp. When the small shrimp closes its oversized claw, it “snaps.”
Working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, Dr. Knowlton, with Arthur Anker and other colleagues, determined that two nearly identical snapping shrimp from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the Isthmus of Panama had different DNA and couldn’t mate. Separated by the isthmus for over 3,000,000 years, they had evolved into different species, Alpheus nuttingi (Atlantic) and Alpheus millsae (Pacific).
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