Behold, the Brain from Space!
Luis Fabio Silveira
Oct. 26, 2010
-- More than 1,200 new species have been identified in the Amazon rainforest between 1999 and 2009, dubbed "the decade of discovery." This translates to a rate of one previously undescribed animal or plant every three days, according to a report published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Here we see Micrastur mintoni, a forest falcon with bright orange ovals around its eyes. Discovered in 2002 in Brazil, the bird is a bit of a mystery, though researchers believe the overall populations of this animal are large.
Jose Maria Fernandez Diaz-Formenti
Among the new species are 637 plants, 257 fish, 216 amphibians, 55 reptiles, 16 birds and 39 mammals. Thousands of additional invertebrate species have also been discovered; however, they weren't included in the report. Discovered in 2002 in Bolivia, this snake (Eunectes beniensis) is the first newly described anaconda since 1936. It can grow up to four meters (13 feet) in length, and once fully grown can prey on animals as large as jaguars.
Spanning 6.7 million square kilometers (2.6 million square miles), the Amazon spans nine countries -- Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. The world's largest rainforest and river basin, the Amazon is a biodiversity hot spot. It is home to one in 10 of the world's known species, according to the WWF. Found in French Guiana in 2000, this spider (Ephebopus cyanognathus) has two bright blue fangs that stand out from its otherwise brown body. More than 500 new spiders have been cataloged in the Amazon over the past 10 years.
More species of primates can be found in the Amazon than anywhere else on Earth, according to the WWF report. That includes Mico acariensis, a fresh primate face first found in 2000. The animal can grow to 24 centimeters (9 inches) tall and weighs a mere 420 grams (0.9 pounds). Little is known about this mysterious marmoset since this animal lives away from human activity in a remote region of central Brazil.
Insects are especially plentiful throughout the Amazonian rainforest, particularly ants. One tree was found able to sustain up to 43 different ant species. According to scientists' estimates, approximately 15 percent of all animal biomass within the Amazon is just ants. This would include Martialis heureka, a new ant species discovered in Brazil. Blind, subterranean and predatory, this new species has very ancient roots and could be a direct descendant of the first ants ever to evolve more than 120 million years ago.
First discovered in the 1830s, the Amazon river dolphin is easy to spot in the water given its pink color. However, the dolphin in this photo, Inia bolivienses, belongs to a different species entirely. Although it was discovered in 1977, only in 2006 were biologists able to confirm this unique Bolivian native. Threats to this animal include pollution from mercury and hydrocarbons as well as dams, waterways and other infrastructure projects.
Despite the rich tapestry of life that exists within the Amazon, the rainforest is increasingly under threat due to human activity primarily caused by deforestation from both agriculture and ranching. Regional and global demand for meat, soy and biofuels will only accelerate this trend. More than 15 percent of the Amazon has already been destroyed, according to the WWF report. These influences have put pressure on native populations of plants and animals -- not only those known to science but also those that have yet to be discovered. This new report highlights the need to protect this fragile environment and is a reminder of just how much there is still to learn about the world's largest rainforest. Take this bald parrot (Pyrilia aurantiocephala) for instance. Given its brilliant color patterns, scientists were surprised to discover that it had never been previously identified. Due to its somewhat small population and logging activity in its territory that is furthering habitat loss, this new species has already been identified as "near threatened."
The WWF wasn't alone in compiling this incredibly diverse catalog of species of animals and plants. Scientists at universities, museums, government agencies and various other organizations discovered the individual species detailed in this report. Here we see one of the most colorful animals detailed in this report, Ranitomeya benedicta. Found in the Peruvian Amazon, this poisonous dart frog -- just one of the 24 such amphibians discovered over a 10 year span -- uses toxins to ward off potential predators.
To learn more about the species described in this slide show and more, click here to read the full WWF report.
Well, technically it's a brain photographed from space. Astronaut Chris Hadfield, current Commander of the International Space Station, snapped the photograph while orbiting over South America.