Large Rat, Caramba Wasp, Felting Wasp and Monitor Lizard – New Animal Species Attract Attention
​Tropical rainforests cover only 6 percent of the earth's land surface, but provide a home to approximately 50 percent of the animals and plants living on land. A vast majority of these species are still unknown to science. Researchers of the University of Turku actively study the biodiversity in the Amazon and in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea and Uganda.

​The variety of life on earth is poorly known. Animal and plant species unknown to science are discovered especially from the oceans and in the rainforests near the Equator. Each year, scientists describe approximately 18,000 new species. However, most of the discoveries are known only by the academic community.

The researchers of the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku study the variety of life in the tropics and describe even tens of new species each year. Most of them do not receive a great deal of attention. However, the Rattus dentus rat and the Varanus semotus monitor lizard discovered on a remote island in Papua New Guinea as well as the Clistopyga caramba wasp living in the Peruvian Amazonia are exceptions.

The identification of the new rat species was chosen among the 100 top science stories of 2016 by the American Discover magazine. In addition to several blogs, the new wasp species was featured by The Daily Mail. The discovery of the monitor lizard and rat were covered by several news media, including the Washington Post, The Guardian, The Telegraph and El Mundo.

– Discovering and describing a new species is a long process. Behind the discoveries might be, for example, extended periods of field work when researchers look for new species far away from their home country. After the field work, the other research work begins: the species is examined in a laboratory, described, named, and classified and then the research article is published in an international journal. Despite the hard work, many species descriptions only reach the academia, say researchers Valter Weijola and Ilari E. Sääksjärvi from the University of Turku, who made the discoveries.

Every now and again, new species become popular. Often, a peculiar appearance, interesting behaviour or significance for humans are behind their popularity.
Traditionally, species that have become popular are extinct human or dinosaur species. Species that are named after presidents, singers or athletes have also received a great deal of attention.

Unique species can also be found in Finland. Last year, Niclas Fritzén and Sääksjärvi from the Biodiversity Unit studied a Finnish wasp species and discovered that it felts spider silk with its felting needle-like egg-laying organ called ovipositor. The extraordinary find was quickly reported by international media and covered on the webpages of the Science journal and BBC as well as by The Scientist and The Atlantic magazines.

– It is great that new species still inspire the public. It can focus the readers' attention on the fact that we still know fairly little of our planet. At the same time, more and more species become extinct as a direct result of human actions. We hope that the new, exceptional discoveries would increase people's enthusiasm to protect endangered ecosystems and their inhabitants. This is probably the biggest hope for us scientists after a long research process, say Weijola and Sääksjärvi.

Rattus dentus lives only on the remote Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The isolated rat has evolved into a larger species than its relatives living in New Guinea and Australia, and it is one of the largest Rattus species in the world. Very little is known of its behaviour. The rare species can only be found in the rainforests of the Manus Island.

The tip of the caramba wasp's abdomen (Clistopyga caramba) mimics an ant – in a way, it has two heads. Most likely, the wasp uses it to frighten off spiders protecting their eggs. The white base of its posterior visually separates the ant-like part from the rest of the wasp. When the spider flees, the parasitoid caramba wasp nests in the spider's eggs. The species is only found in the tropical Andean-Amazonian interface in Peru. The name of the species, caramba, refers to the Spanish exclamation ”¡Ay, caramba!”. It describes the researchers' feeling of astonishment when they discovered the wasp.

The Varanus semotus monitor lizard endemic to the Mussau Island is a large, intelligent and active lizard that is the apex predator of the Island. It belongs to the monitor lizard species in the Pacific area which are the least known of the large terrestrial vertebrates. Most of the species are very mysterious and live in places that are hard to reach in New Guinea, the Maluku Islands and the Solomon Islands.

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Photos: Ilari E. Sääksjärvi and Valter Weijola

Published date 2/22/2017 10:45 AM ,  Modified date 3/10/2017 9:09 AM

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