Signs of Life: 7 New Animals to Emerge This Spring

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As the weather changes from cold to pleasantly warm, familiar animals reemerge from their winter retreats while new species are uncovered worldwide. From color-changing frogs and amphibious insects to big-toothed leeches and strangely endowed lizards, a week’s worth of new animals has been discovered in recent months, leading to much intrigue.

“Leeches!” of the Big-Toothed Variety

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Thank goodness the “Stand By Me” kids weren’t searching for a dead body in the Peruvian Amazon, where a new species of big-toothed leeches was recently discovered, specifically in the nose of a young girl. While only reaching 3 inches in length, Tyrannobdella rex (i.e. the “tyrant leech king”) is referred to as the T-rex of leeches because of its surprisingly large teeth, which are used to suck blood from the noses, eyes, urethras, rectums and other orifices of mammals. As detailed in a new study in the April 14th version of PLos One, researchers were surprised by not only Tyrannobdella rex’s teeth but the leech’s genitalia, which are relatively small when compared to other leech species that rapidly reproduce. In good news, the T. Rex leeches and their big teeth may be used for future medical purposes, specifically to develop anticoagulants that stop blood clotting.

Giant Monitor Lizards: Like and Unlike Komodo Dragons

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Speaking of a recently discovered species with strange genitalia, there’s the Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard or Varanus bitatawa. As detailed in the journal Biology Letters, this giant, secretive lizard was captured in the Philippines, where it’s been hiding high up in the trees for years. Weighing as much as 22 pounds and matching many humans in length at 6 feet, the monitor lizard is also a vegetarian – but that’s not the biggest surprise at all. Apparently Varanus bitatawa has a split, doubled-edged penis, which is certainly unique to this form of lizard species. According to researchers, this giant lizard is closely related to the Komodo dragon, that is besides its genitalia and eating habits.

Blind Worm Snakes: Rich History, New Family

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The giant monitor lizard is not the only new reptile to be recently discovered and examined in Biology Letters; scientists have recognized a new family of wormlike, blind snakes that have likely been around since the formation of the island of Madagascar, which occurred roughly 94 million years ago. Through analysis of different blind snake genes, scientists were able to determine that the “new” family of blind snakes arose shortly after Madagascar broke from what is now India. Amazingly, blind snakes exist on every continent except Antarctica, thanks to continental drifting. Reaching up to one foot in length, blind snakes look and act like worms. While both burrow under the surface, blind snakes are different from worms in that they have backbones and scales, and send more chills down the spine.

Giant Isopod: A Rarely Seen Deep-Sea Monster

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Speaking of terrifying, a rarely seen giant isopod called Bathynomus giganteus was recently pulled to shore during a deep-sea submarine expedition. Related to shrimps and crabs, this freakish-looking crustacean looks like it could have been cast as the oversized villain in a low-budget, horror movie from the fifties. Actually found in the deep, cold waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Bathynomus giganteus is known for scavenging the carcasses of dead whales, fish and squid. According to some researchers, these strange isopods may get their massive figures from colder water temperatures that promote larger cell sizes. Whatever the cause, keep this creature out of sight, that is unless it is on a dinner plate.

Oxygen-Free Animals: Similar to the Jellyfish

(Images via: Roberto Danovero on National Geographic)

What Bathynomus giganteus is to the deep waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, complex organisms that resemble tiny jellyfish and live without oxygen are to the Mediterranean Sea. Researchers recently discovered three new species of multicellular organisms that are less than a millimeter wide, microscopic and capable of surviving long-term without oxygen. As detailed in the journal BMC Biology, these animals apparently have modified mitochondria that allow it to convert nutrients into energy without the need of oxygen. Prior to this discovery, scientists previously thought that only viruses and single-cell microbes could live without oxygen. They now stand corrected.

Amphibious Caterpillars: Versatile on Land and Underwater

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Just as the aforementioned multicellular organisms amaze with their abilities to live underwater without oxygen, so do 14 new caterpillar species. Distinct to the fast-moving streams of Hawaii, these caterpillars from the Hyposmocoma species are truly the first amphibious insects. Capable of living on both land and underwater, these amphibious caterpillars spend most of their time in cocoon-like, hardened silk cases that were originally believed to act like underwater oxygen tanks but actually do not serve in this manner. Some researchers propose that these amphibious caterpillars are able to breathe through their skin, which could explain why they are only found in fast-moving streams. Anyways, these caterpillars will seal themselves in their cases prior to becoming moths, and emerge as their new beings when their homes float to the top of the water.

Color-Changing Frogs: From Dangerous to Delicious?

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Speaking of amphibians, a new frog species called Oreophryne ezra has stunned researchers with its ability to change from a black and yellow polka-dotted youngster to a bright orange adult. Found in southeastern Papua New Guinea, this color-changing frog has researchers wondering why it would look like a poison-dart frog in its youth but lose this potential advantage against predators in adulthood. Apparently, there is much more to learn about frogs besides these compounding color changes. Researchers have recorded Argentine horned frog tadpoles screaming when in distress, marking what is believed to be the first instance of vertebrate larvae using sound to communicate underwater. It turns out that not all frogs are as simple as Kermit.