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From ‘little dragon’ to ‘giant’ spider, these creatures expand life as we know it

Whether venturing into pitch-black caverns or boating to uninhabited islands, scientists have recently discovered several new species that expand the scope of life as we know it. Take a look at these newfound creatures.

Landing on an uninhabited, rugged island off the east coast of Australia, Conrad Hoskin led an animal survey with one goal in mind: “finding some interesting reptile species.” He succeeded.

Hoskin discovered a new species of lizard: the Scawfell Island leaf-tailed gecko, or phyllurus fimbriatus. The nearly 6-inch-long gecko has a green-brown coloring, “spindly legs” and a “spiny tail.”

“It looks like a little dragon or something,” Hoskin said. The lizard hides in the island’s rocks during the day and emerges at night to eat.

Conrad Hoskin holds a Scawfell Island leaf-tailed gecko.
Conrad Hoskin holds a Scawfell Island leaf-tailed gecko.

Nearby on the Australian mainland, researchers in Queensland were focused on their own goal: documenting a “rare and giant” spider. The scientists found the trapdoor spider hiding in wooded areas and identified it as a new species based on its DNA and body shape.

The new species was named Euoplos dignitas for its “impressive size and nature.” Although only about an inch long, Euoplos dignitas are “much larger” than other species of trapdoor spider.

Male Euoplos dignitas spiders grow larger than females and have a brighter red coloring with long spindly legs. Females have a more muted red-brown coloring and compact build.

A male Euoplos dignitas trapdoor spider.
A male Euoplos dignitas trapdoor spider.

The trapdoor spider wasn’t the only underground creature discovered recently. A century of “intriguing” reports about a cave-dwelling creature led researchers into the darkness of Siju Cave in northeastern India.

The spelunking scientists encountered the “cryptic” creature — but didn’t initially recognize its significance. They found two “olive green” frogs in the cavern and identified the animals as a known species.

But “superficial” similarities gave way, and molecular analysis confirmed that these frogs were a new species of cascade-dwelling frog.

Researchers named the new species Amolops siju, or the Siju cascade frog, after its cavernous home. Siju cascade frogs are about 2.5 inches to about 3.7 inches in size with females growing larger than males.

Amolops siju, or the Siju cascade frog, sitting on the cavern floor.
Amolops siju, or the Siju cascade frog, sitting on the cavern floor.

Researchers in India weren’t the only ones to identify a previously overlooked creature. Scientists in Hong Kong scooped some “brackish water” from a “relatively well-studied” pond and discovered a new species of box jellyfish.

The new species, Tripedalia maipoensis, has a “cube-shaped” body and 24 eyes. It measures less than an inch long and has a translucent coloring with a slight white tinge. Every side of its body has six eyes and every lower corner has three tentacles.

Tripedalia maipoensis was named after the Mai Po area where it was discovered. When swimming, the jellyfish appears to pulsate as it thrusts forward.

The new species of jellyfish, Tripedalia maipoensis.
The new species of jellyfish, Tripedalia maipoensis.

On the other side of the world, researchers on the French island of Corsica had a breakthrough with an elusive animal.

Stories of the ‘Ghjattu Volpe’ or “cat-fox” passed through island mythology. Locals have considered the feline a real creature since the 19th and 20th centuries.

Other scientists and French officials took awhile to reach the same conclusion about the Corsican cat-fox.

Research on this fluffy, tannish-orange feline exploded after one was accidentally captured in a chicken coop in 2008. Still, the wildcat’s habitat and behavior made it hard to study.

Scientists finally collected enough genetic material to determine the Corscian cat-fox is genetically distinct from its three geographically closest relatives. The findings confirm that the creature of island folklore is both real and a newly defined species.

A close-up view of the Corsican cat-fox.
A close-up view of the Corsican cat-fox.

Identifying and documenting new species of animals allows scientists to better understand environmental diversity. Many species — both known and unknown — are threatened by human-induced climate change. Documenting new species provides scientists and officials with important information to help protect and preserve threatened and vulnerable animals.

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