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Dalek wasps, lightbulb anemones and a giant penguin: 5 new species discovered in 2023

A staggering 619 new species of wasp alone were described in 2023.
A staggering 619 new species of wasp alone were described in 2023. Copyright Wolfgang Hasselmann
Copyright Wolfgang Hasselmann
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
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A staggering 619 new species of wasp alone were described in 2023.

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Unbeknownst to most of us, thousands of new species are documented every year by scientists.

With countries around the globe facing grim biodiversity crises, the news that the UK’s Natural History Museum has described a record 815 new species alone this year is welcome.

“We are unable to protect what we don’t know, and so describing new species is an integral aspect that underpins much of the work in protecting, preserving and reversing the declines in biodiversity seen across the natural world,” the museum writes.

Here are some of the most curious and unusual species to be discovered in 2023.

5. Dalek wasp

2023 has been the year of the wasp, with a staggering 619 new species described by the Natural History Museum.

The majority of these belong to a group known as the Encyrtidae. These refer to parasitic insects that lay their eggs on and in unsuspecting invertebrate hosts.

Scientists decided to bestow one genus of wasp - along with the 14 species within it - with the name of Dalek to acknowledge the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who.

‘I thought it was a good name for a genus and a bit of fun having been a big fan of Doctor Who in my early years,’ says Dr John Noyes, who worked on the discovery.

4. Light bulb anemone

Although this species has been known by divers and aquarium keepers for decades, it was only in 2023 that it was officially described with a Latin name.

The light bulb anemone, as it is informally known, is a translucent sea creature found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now officially termed the Bellactic lux, it shelters in rocky crevices in order to sting and trap its prey.

It’s a difficult one to spot as it can sometimes measure just 1.3cm across but it is identifiable by the bulbous tips on its tentacles.

3. Giant crab spider

Arachnophobics, look away now. A super-sized spider was discovered in the Ecuadorian Amazon this year and is the first of its kind in the South American country.

Pedro Peñaherrera-R. and Diego Cisneros-Heredia stumbled across the colossus, a giant crab spider from the genus Sadala, while on a nocturnal hike near the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador. They decided to name the new species Sadala rauli in honour of Peñaherrera-R's grandfather.

The mammoth beast has eight eyes, eight legs and a fuzzy orange-red abdomen. It lies in wait in foliage or on a tree trunk ready to pounce and ensnare passing insects.

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2. DiCaprio’s snail-eating snake

A bounty of five new snail-eating snakes has been described by scientists in 2023.

One tree-dwelling species has received the epithet of DiCaprio’s snail-eating snake, or Sibon irmelindicaprioae in Latin.

The name was chosen by the famed actor (and conservationist) Leonardo DiCaprio but honours his mother Irmelin.

In the paper describing the new species, authors classify it as Near Threatened as its habitat - unspoiled forest - is being converted into farmland.

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The snake is found in areas of Panama and Colombia.

1. Giant penguin

Not all new species described are still extant. In fact, some died out many millennia ago.

Scientists in New Zealand discovered the bones of two species of giant penguins that would have roamed the area some 50 million years ago.

The Kumimanu fordycei would have weighed about as much as a giant panda but been surprisingly graceful in the sea.

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“Many early fossil penguins attained enormous sizes, easily dwarfing the largest penguins alive today,” says Dr Daniel Field, a University of Cambridge researcher who co-authored the description of the species.

“Our new species Kumimanu fordycei is the largest fossil penguin ever discovered.”

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