You can discover new species EVERYWHERE!

That “millions more” link leads to this quote:

“Each insect species may host (on average) a unique species of mite, nematode, microsporidian fungus, apicomplexan protist, and 11 bacterial species”

That mention of hidden biodiversity reminded me of another thing that Doug Yanega said:

"My Darwin Day message for 2016:

I’ve found that when I give tours and tell people what entomologists do, people are often incredulous when I say that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Earth’s biodiversity.

Every expedition I take, whether it is to Thailand, or Guatemala, or right here [in California] to a local municipal park, is likely to yield at least one insect species entirely new to science — thus continuing a tradition shared with Charles Darwin (a very well-traveled insect collector) and many, many others.

We’ve been collecting insects for centuries, and by our best estimates we have only discovered about 10% of the world’s insects so far (and even worse percentages, most likely, when it comes to things like mites and nematodes).

The era of exploration is not over, not by a long shot, and it’s disheartening at times to find how little the general public appreciates this fact. It’s more than just a lack of enthusiasm (“Well, they’re just bugs…”), because I sometimes hear people insisting that we should actually stop collecting altogether — something which could ONLY be suggested by someone who doesn’t realize just how much is still unknown.

If Darwin were alive today, one can only imagine him trying to solicit crowdfunding for a TV series tracking his expeditions — and quite possibly failing, because of a lack of popular support. That’s not the way it should be, and I think if people KNEW how much exploration was still needed, they WOULD support it, rather than condemning it.

I often use the following analogy: if NASA announced that they had landed a robot probe on a planet in another star system, and they estimated that it had 10 million unknown life forms, then trying to document those life forms would attract more interest, and funding, than any endeavor in human history — but if you tell people that we are LIVING ON a planet with 10 million unknown life forms, then they couldn’t care less.

There is still SO MUCH to discover, I just wish there was a way to get people to understand this, and support our efforts to go out and do it."

Doug recently updated his quote with this statement:

“Based on the stuff that’s coming out of the ‘eDNA’ studies lately, and the new concept of a species as anything with a 3% different DNA barcode, 10 million is going to be a wild underestimate.”

And there is this quote by Nathan Cobb:

“If all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable. We would find its mountains, rivers, and oceans represented by a film of nematodes. The location of towns would be decipherable, since for every massing of human beings, there would be a corresponding massing of nematodes. Trees would still stand in ghostly rows representing our streets and highways. The location of the various plants and animals would be decipherable, and, had we sufficient knowledge, in many cases even their species could be determined by an examination of their nematode parasites.”


You remind me of the work of Charley Eiseman (@ceiseman), who lives a few towns away from me in Massachusetts in the northeastern U.S. I’ve heard Charley speak once or twice and, for people who don’t know Charley, I summarize his talks like this: “I [Charley] went out to get the mail one day. Three hours later, I made it back to the house, having been distracted by leaf mines here and there in the yard. Four years later, my wonderful collaborators have determined that there were 17 species of arthropods in those mines, 6 of them new to the state and 2 of those new to science. Here are the links to the papers describing those species…”

Forgive me, Charley, if I characterize your talks incorrectly, but my point is to say that new species are all around us, even in well-studied and long-settled (by Europeans, that is) Massachusetts. Here’s a recent blog post from Charley as a real example of his work: Phlox Fauna.

And you all noticed that a new species of butterfly was recently discovered via an iNaturalist observation, yes?

We really do live in an extraordinary world.


Thanks for the link to Charley’s blog, Lynn! That’s an impressive number of species found on a couple of plants, with some outstanding macrophotography!


If anyone wants to help discover new species of leafminers, they can check out my list of over 1000 mystery leaf mines that have been found in North America (many of them by iNatters)–see this post for details:
Actually getting names put on these species requires collecting occupied leaf mines to rear and preserve specimens of the adult insects, which in many cases is pretty easy to do:


Do the 11 bacterial species include the ones in the mite, nematode and microsporidian fungus that are on the insect? :P

I was like this too a few years ago… Not caring much for undiscovered species on Earth, but deeply fascinated by the potential biodiversity on other planets. I started studying biology with the dream of becoming an astrobiologist, just to realise that “even just” Earth’s biodiversity is so infinitely interesting that I don’t need to look to other planets (plus, being an astrobiologist would probably be the most boring job ever while we haven’t even managed to get to another planet yet (Though, if any space agency is reading this: I wouldn’t say no to going on an expedition to another planet to do some biological experiments or see what’s out there :D ))

I will say, though, that the possibility of life on different planets is still immensely interesting for understanding how life began and evolved on earth too.


I question that species concept.

In any case, if the 10 million estimate is without the DNA barcoding – presumably, just using “conventional” taxonomic criteria – I would advocate more focus on finding those first. Because those will become the (hopefully) identifiable species complexes that those of us without sequencing equipment can use, once the unidentifiable genetic cryptospecies are added to them.


iirc, some think the taxonomic group with the most species is beetles: one for each plant and a few extras. Others argue that it’s probably wasps: one for each beetle and a few extras


You are one of the many people who make the iNaturalist community so special. I need to try more rearing this summer. Mostly, I get parasitic wasps from galls or only dead larva.


silently screams in rural Australia

A lot of Aussie iNat entomologists just don’t keep track of the obviously undescribed species we upload anymore; and that’s just the ones that were large enough to catch out attention with the naked eye.

If I tried to include all the tinier moving specks, the larvae, the galls, the mines/burrows, I would die of starvation before I got back from the mail run.


Beetles may be winning in terms of the number of described species, but that’s only because there is a disproportionate number of beetle taxonomists. Beetles are definitely number three in terms of actual diversity. Whether it’s wasps or flies that are #1 depends on who you ask. Several years ago a Canadian study estimated that a single fly family, Cecidomyiidae, contains more species than all beetle families combined! There is some discussion of this here:


I’m really sad. My treatment of all North American Lomatium (biscuits or desert parsleys, plants related to carrots but not too closely) comes out this month. By the end of the month, it will be wildly out of date. Several new species had been described in the five years before we wrote. While we were writing, we came to know of about a dozen undescribed species. The genus is subject of very active research right now and the total may be above 20. Most of these species will be published this month. I feel almost useless. Sigh.

Note: Lomatium are showy wildflowers in western North America. They have been commonly collected for academic study since western scientists first got to the area. Native Americans used (and sometimes still use) the roots and seeds for food, perfumes, and medicines. They also moved the plants around, which resulted in additional speciation through hybridization and polyploidy (I think). These aren’t unknown little insects from the Amazon. And most (not all) of the Lomatium species are pretty distinct, in my opinion. (Sorry, colleagues, but the 7 or 9 or whatever “species” in the L. triternatum complex should be treated as subspecies of a single species. At most.)


So true. On top of that, discovery is not limited to cataloguing new species. We are constantly discovering new facets to the behaviour and adaptations of all sorts of organisms, even large and well known ones.

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You have my sympathy!


I know Dr. Michael Sharkey has bold visions for Braconidae diversity:

Moth diversity impresses people because you can usually see them (without a microscope or fancy camera), as opposed to Chalcids and kin. I’ve observed a few known, undescribed species in New Mexico and we have an estimated 3-4 thousand species present in the region.


That’s the nice thing about leafminers; the adults are usually tiny and often hard to identify, but the leaf mines are typically pretty conspicuous.
Thanks for the podcast link, I just downloaded that episode. I’m aware of that controversy, but I’m curious to hear him talk about it.


This is rather refreshing. Inspired me.


Hello from Zanzibar
Even ‘known’ species can turn out to be ‘new’ species. In the ‘old’ days we used ID books for birds, fish etc. That’s how I learned many names. A Tropical Boubou was a Tropical Boubou.
New research methods and DNA analysis leads to new findings. Here on Zanzibar Island, many species are taxed as island exclusives. We have the Zanzibar Boubou, the [Zanzibar Black-and-rufous Sengi … the list is growing with every research.
According to my scientist friends, many scientific findings in (East)Africa are results of patchwork researches.
Nature is still a treasure trove.
We are all in charge to help keeping it that way.
iNat helps to share the precious gems we find.

have a nice day