New Species in 2020

Despite the pandemic, new species were discovered in a variety of ecosystems, from the forest floor, to its branches to high in its canopy, as well as at the bottom of the ocean. Here are some of our favorites.

Image by Thaung Win

A beautiful new monkey, the Popa langur, was discovered in Myanmar. Named after the mountain on which it is found, it has white rings around black eyes and gray fur, and is already classed as critically endangered because only 200-260 individuals are known in the wild.

Image by Dominik Schüßler

Another primate, Jonah’s mouse lemur, was discovered in Madagascar. Only as large as a human fist, the mouse lemur has characteristic large eyes and a pointed snout. More than 100 lemur species are now known and almost all are endangered because of increasing deforestation in Madagascar, the last place where they have survived.

Bulbophyllum dologlossum, not yet in bloom. Image by T.M. Reeve.

Nineteen new species of tree-dwelling orchids were discovered on the island of New Guinea, known to have the most plant species of any island, though many are yet to be discovered. Among the new species, three are known for their beautiful flowers.

Gastrodia agnicellus © Rick Burian

 Not to be outdone, Madagascar revealed the “world’s ugliest orchid,” which produces small, brown, and, shall we say, hideous flowers.

Though one of Australia’s favorite marsupials, greater gliders, have long been known, last year the one species was discovered to be three. Scientists have suspected that morphological differences between gliders might indicate there are more than one species, and DNA evidence finally confirmed it. These possum-like mammals live high in the tree canopy, feed on eucalyptus leaves and glide from tree to tree, sometimes staying airborne for over three hundred feet.

Lilliputian frog, much magnified from its size of 10 mm long. Image by Trond Larsen.

One of the smallest amphibians in the world was discovered in the Bolivian Andes. Known as the Lilliputian frog, it is only ten millimeters long and hard to see because of its camouflage-brown color.

Image: Schmidt Ocean Institute

A giant hydroid – related to corals, anemones and sea fans – was seen for the first time on the bottom of the ocean, 2500 meters below the surface, in Australia. It has a single polyp that radiates like a sunflower or dandelion from a one meter long stem attached to the sandy bottom.

Schmidt Ocean Institute

The same submersible that discovered the giant hydroid also discovered a giant siphonophore that is 150 feet long. Siphonophores are floating colonies of tiny creatures known as zooids that clone themselves and string together to work as a team. This one is now the longest animal known.

Stills from CBC film

In recent years, Neville Winchester of the University of Victoria has discovered twenty new species of flies, mites and beetles hiding in moss mats high in the canopy of old growth trees on Vancouver Island. They are part of a unique ecosystem suspended more than 150 feet above the ground.  

Yea biodiversity! Especially for a year when everything was shut down for so long. See below for sources and film clips (recommended!)


Popa langur, Jonah’s mouse lemur, New Guinea orchids, Lilliputian frog: Mongabay

Ugly orchids: Royal Botanical Gardens Kew

Greater Gliders: Green Matters

Giant hydroid, Giant siphonophore: New Atlas (a film clip on the same page gives some stunning highlights of the submersible’s mission to the serene depths of the ocean, also found here).

Flies, mites and beetles: CBC (the three-minute film presents amazing views of this lofty old growth ecosystem)

Newsletter Index for 2020

I managed to produce twelve issues of my newsletter, DH News Presents: each month a grab bag of writings about nature, conservation, science and wonder, with a good dose of humor thrown in.

Headlines for each of the twelve issues follow below, as well as the revolving DH title. The entire archive can be found here. If you’re not yet a subscriber I’d love to have you on the list (at that link or here).

1. The Drafty House: After the Forest, Deforestation Worsening, Word of the Day, Where the River Begins, Mary Oliver: 1935 – 2019, Clarification, Meme of the Day, Gleanings, Fermat’s Last Poem, Website News

2. The Dancing Hand: Calendar of Events, Did You Know, Today’s Image, The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear, Homero Gomez Gonzalez, There’s a Word for That, Whale Migration, Whales in the News, Have You Ever, Good Fortune

3. The Dreaming Heron: Image of the Day, Upcoming Events, Walking With Trees, Rhino Poaching in South Africa, Stopping in the Woods, Quote of the Day, My Orchid, Nature’s Best Hope

4. The Dented Halo: Upcoming Events, My Orchid II, Nativeplantfinder, The 16th of September, A Strange Thing, The Bird of the Mind, Diary of a Russian Cosmonaut, Meme of the Day

5. The Dapper Herd: Upcoming Events, Called to Look Outside at the Beautiful Night Sky I Stared Up at the Crescent Moon and Venus in Silence Then Texted My Siblings to Look and They Did From So Far Away, An Update on Comet Atlas, Quote of the Day I, A Walk Around Ponkapoag Pond as an Homage to Some Long Titles Found in Ancient Chinese Poems, Long Titles, Homegrown National Park, Long Titles II, Quote of the Day II

6. The Damned Hero: Announcements, Mercury!, What Snails Talk About When They Get Together, Today’s Image, Bird Feeding: Astounding Numbers, Coronavirus Questions, The River Santa, The Greatest Day, Brief Poem of the Day

7. The Dark Hotel: Dedication, Sightings, A Brief Record of My 4-Day Stay in the Berkshires, Today’s Image, An Evening Walk in the Berkshires, A Moment of Sadness, What To Do If You Get Cornered at a Cocktail Party By a String Theorist, Meme of the Day

8. The Divine Hellos: Announcements, Sightings, Moonviewing from the White Road at Lake Champlain, My Orchid III, Possible Reasons I Like Ferns So Much, The Nights of the Comet, A Line I Wish I Wrote, Another Universe

9. The Droll Harbor: Announcements, Sightings, Kayaking the Charles River, And Then There’s This Lovely Story, Answers to Neruda’s Questions, Neruda Question Contest, From the Cutting Room Floor, Looking for Old Trees

10. The Dubious Hat: Announcements, Sightings, The Highs and Lows of Gardening, Life on Venus? Life on Mars? Do Loons Call Only at Night?, Word of the Day, Looking for Old Trees II

11. The Daily Howl:  Announcements, Sightings/Soundings, A Japanese Garden in Vermont, October Hammock, The Tree on My Block, Letter to an Old Friend, A Love Letter, Life on Venus II, Life on Zoom,  Halloween 2020’s Scariest Costumes, My Orchid IV

12. The Deluxe Hug: Announcements, Sightings, DH News 2020, My Orchid V, 2020: Making the Best of a Bad Situation, The 12 Days of COVID Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Havana, 2004

Climbing Brandon

Have you been on any good hikes lately? Last year, I stumbled on Mount Brandon, on Ireland’s Dingle peninsula, an area rich with Celtic and early Christian ruins. The Smart Set just published an essay I wrote about my experiences:

It begins:

I wound up hiking Mt. Brandon by accident. But it is an accident in the same way a traveler stumbles on ruins he didn’t know he was looking for. On Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula, they say you don’t get lost, you discover. And wherever you go, someone has been there before, walking.

So it was with me. While meandering along Slea Head Drive, stopping to take in the coastal views and ruins, I passed the sign for Mt. Brandon. It was late afternoon, still lots of daylight left. No need to return to Dingle just yet. So I turned around and followed the sign to the foot of the mountain.

All day I saw it looming over the peninsula, snow on its flanks, peak in the clouds, a presence. At the trailhead, the gentle slope looked enticing. I could start walking up the trail right now, I thought, the way people have done for hundreds of years.

I came to Dingle because of a book I read many years ago. Honey from Stone: A Naturalist’s Search for God, by Chet Raymo. In eight essays, named for the canonical hours, the author tries to reconcile the many evidences of historical faith on the peninsula with the findings of modern science. He looks deep into geological time on the Dingle coastline, ponders early Christian and pre-Christian ruins, tells the tales of the land, and goes stargazing. Through it all, he walks and walks, and these meditative hikes stayed with me.

I knew about Raymo’s writing from his previous book, The Soul of the Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage, a heady mix of creation myths, poetry, and cosmology. I discovered it during my undergraduate studies in physics and astronomy, and it provided a lyrical antidote to my equation-filled courses. It was here I first learned that I wanted to read more from Rilke and Roethke, here that comets, star clusters, and quasars came alive among the constellations, and here that I got a taste of the big questions in cosmology: How did the universe begin? What is it made of? How will it end? The book was a quest for our place in the universe, and my young mind took to it like a sponge.

Read the rest at The Smart Set

The Tree on My Block — Films

I didn’t notice the tree right away. I’d lived on the block for several years and it took me awhile to tune into it. But once I did it became my favorite tree. It took its time with its autumnal leaf changing, a month or even six weeks. In 2015, I was able to record the transition, though my photos were haphazard. I vowed the next year to be more consistent, get the photos from the same location, the same time of day and so on. But I never got a chance. The tree died in September 2016, when it dropped its leaves suddenly several weeks before it usually did. I didn’t know it was dead until I saw that it didn’t bud again in the spring. It stood dormant on my block for another year and was removed in April 2017.

I wrote several short prose pieces between the time the tree last dropped its leaves and when it was removed and have now made films out of them. They’re collected in the album on my Vimeo page, a memorial to a great tree. Still some tweaks to do here or there, but let me know in the comments what you think, which one is your favorite and so on. Thanks for watching.

The Tree on My Block — A Cycle

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