Top 10 New Species found at 2013

10. The Carnivorous Olinguito

The newly discovered olinguito, found in the cloud forests of South America, is the first new mammal species to be identified in years.

If you think it’s hard to tell a chimpanzee from a 
bonobo, try distinguishing the new, carnivorous 
olinguito from all other olinguitos—tree-dwelling 
mammals of the Amazon cloud forest related to 
common raccoons. So closely does the reddish-
brown animal with its deceptively cuddly 
appearance and its decidedly un-cuddly claws 
resemble its already identified cousins, that the 
preserved samples of the animal’s pelts which were 
long stored in U.S. museums were consistently 
mislabeled as common olinguitos. The Smithsonian 
Institution even reports that some of 
the animals may have been kept in American zoos 
in the 1960s, raising suspicion only because they 
never seemed to mate—at least not successfully—
with others of their ostensible kind. But in 2013, the 
Smithsonian’s curator of mammals announced 
both anatomical and genetic evidence that 
conclusively carved out a new species. Not only 
does this earn the animals an entry in the 
taxonomy books, it may at last get the captive ones 
a cage with the right kind of mate. Happy trails 
you nocturnal imps, you.

9. Giant Amazon Freshwater Arapaima

A visitor looks at an Arapaima Gigas, a fish from the Amazon rivers known as Pirarucu, at Sao Paulo's Aquarium, on Jan. 10, 2007.

For every animal family that has hundreds of 
species, there are others that have only a few—or 
even just one. That was the case with the sleek, 
silvery, 7. ft. (2.1 m) Amazon fish known as the 
araipama, a favorite source of protein for local 
fishermen. In the middle of the 19th century, 
taxonomists thought they had identified four 
species, but by the 1860s, the differences among 
them were seen as trivial enough that they were 
collapsed back into a single one. Modern-day 
biologist Donald Stewart of the State University of 
New York looked more closely at specimens of the 
fish as well as at the old research and decided that 
nope, the first guess—four species—was correct. 
And in 2013, he identified a fifth one, physically 
distinguished from the others by only a few subtle 
features, including slightly different coloration 
and an elongated sinus cavity. The formal 
designation of the new species is less important 
than the problems it potentially poses. Araipama 
are now being raised and farmed, and farmed fish 
have a tendency to escape and become wild fish, 
sometimes crowding out native species they 
wouldn’t normally encounter. Stewart 
recommends caution in any more farming of 
arapaima until their species and behaviors can be 
better understood.

8. The Cape Melville Shade Skink

A new shade skink in the rugged Cape Melville mountain range, northeastern Australia's Cape York Peninsula.

Australia was generous with the exotic animals 
this year, offering up the wonderfully named Cape 
Melville Shade Skink, a gold-colored, insect-eating 
lizard, which represents one more skink species in 
family that already includes 1,500 others. But the 
Cape Melville entry is special, not only for its 
fetching color, but for its exuberance. Mot skinks 
stay close to the ground, hunting their buggy prey 
among the leaf litter. The Cape Melville skink leaps 
about on rock-and-moss fields. That’s usually a 
good way to get yourself eaten, but this species 
must know what it’s doing: it’s been around for 
about half a billion years.

7. Leaf-Tailed Gecko
A leaf-tail gecko, one of the three new species of animals scientists have discovered in an Australian rainforest located in Cape Melville some 1,500 km (932 miles) north west of Brisbane, on March 21, 2013.

You probably wouldn’t want to be 8 inches long, 
have a tail shaped like a leaf and no eyelids to 
speak of, requiring you to lick your eyeballs clean 
every now and again. But if you were, you’d have 
been famous this year, because you’d be 
the Saltuarius eximius, the newest member of the 
leaf-tailed gecko family, discovered in northern 
Australia. Saltuarius is a hanger-on from an 
ancient era, dating back to the time 510 million 
years ago when Australia was part of a larger 
southern landmass known as Gondwana. The 
proto-continent is long gone, but some of its 
earliest inhabitants apparently remain and the 
rock-toned exquisitely camouflaged Saltuarius is 
one of the nicest. Patrick Couper, curator of reptiles 
and frogs at Queensland Museum, called the new 
critter, “the strangest new species to come across 
my desk in 26 years working as a professional 
herpetologist.” High praise from a scientist who 
clearly knows.

6. The Carolina Hammerhead

Carolina Hammerhead

To answer the question you may or may not have 
been asking but have every right to ask: No, there 
is no animal uglier than a hammerhead shark. 
Seriously, what’s that head all about? Well, make 
room for one more—theSphyrna gilbert, a new 
species of hammerhead shark that measures 10 to 
13 ft. (3 to 4 m) fully grown, and has the one 
advantage of not being terribly aggressive. The 
species, informally known as the Carolina 
hammerhead after the U.S. coastal waters in which 
it was found, took some study, since it looks so 
similar to its cousin, the Scalloped hammerhead. 
There are some genetics differences between the 
two, but the only real physical difference is that the 
new fish has ten fewer vertebrae—something 
impossible to detect simply by looking. The head—
its far more salient feature—remains regrettably 
the same.

5. Glow-in-the-Dark Cockroach

A new, light-mimicking cockroach Lucihormetica luckae in daylight and under fluorescent light.

Sorry cockroaches, you don’t get to be any less 
disgusting just because you master a nifty new 
trick like glowing in the dark. OK, maybe you get 
to be a little less disgusting, but only because your 
shape and your glow spots make you look like a 
cute, bug-eyed egg. Still, the Luchihormetica 
luckae, which was identified this year, manages to 
undo any good will it earns. For starters, the 
creature it’s trying to mimic with its stay-away 
nocturnal shimmer is the toxic click beetle, which 
achieves the seemingly impossible task of being 
even lower than the roach on the ladder of appeal. 
And those cute, glowing eye spots? They’re made by 
pits in the animal’s skin filled with fluorescent 

4. NASA’S New Microbe

Tersicoccus phoenicis.

NASA keeps looking for new species of microbes on 
Mars, but what it didn’t expect was to find one in a 
clean room at the Kennedy Space Center. As their 
name suggests, clean rooms are, you know, clean, 
which not only keeps dust out of spacecraft, but 
prevents terrestrial organisms from hitching a ride 
on them and contaminating other worlds. 
Scientists regularly sample the air and surfaces in 
the rooms to check for spotlessness, and at 
Kennedy, they found a bacterium they’d never seen 
before, the berry-shaped Teriscoccus phoenicis. As 
it turns out, the only other place in the world the 
microbe has been identified is in a European Space 
Agency clean room in French Guiana. And no, no, 
no, that does not mean the bugs are 
extraterrestrial. What it means is that they require 
exceedingly little to eat and, unlike most other 
microbes, can thus get by in so nutrient-poor an 
environment. A related species has also been found 
in only two places: yet another clean room in 
Florida and a bore hole in a Colorado molybdenum 
mine, 1.3 mi. (2.1 km) underground.

3. New Turkish Scorpion
A female Euscorpius lycius.

You’ve surely heard the fable of the scorpion that 
asks the turtle to give it a lift across a river. The 
turtle demurs, saying that the scorpion would just 
sting him en route. The scorpion answers that he’d 
never do such a thing since they’d both sink. The 
turtle, finding that reasoning hard to argue with, 
agrees—whereupon, midway across the river, the 
scorpion does administer a fatal sting. “Why did 
you do that?” the turtle asks as it starts to sink. “It’s 
in my nature,” his passenger says with a scorpion 
shrug. That’s all by way of saying that the world 
has at least one more species of beast you shouldn’t 
trust, now that researchers working in southwest 
Turkey have announced the discovery of a new type 
of scorpion, known as the Euscorpius lycius. It’s as 
creepy-looking as any scorpion, as poisonous as 
any scorpion and as foul-tempered as any scorpion. 
But there’s not much to be afraid of. Just an inch or 
so across, it administers a sting that would cause 
you little more distress than a mosquito bite. Good 
news for us—bad news for the much smaller critters 
that cross its fearsome path.

2. Panthera Blythae

An artist's rendering of Panthera blytheae, based on skull CT scan data. A team of researchers have discovered this oldest-yet big cat fossil, a 4.4 million-year-old skull.

Being extinct is no reason not to make news, which 
is something a newly discovered species of great 
predatory cat, which last prowled the Earth 4.4 
million years ago, proved this year. The Panthera 
blythae, discovered in Tibet, easily predates the 
previous big-cat record holder, which lived in 
Tanzania 3.7 million years ago. The new beast had 
a broad forehead that investigators compare to 
that of a modern snow leopard, but at 50 lbs. (27 
kg), it was comparatively small, about the size of a 
modern clouded leopard. Still, like all big cats, it 
was clearly built for the kill. One of its most 
noteworthy features was its large teeth, which the 
investigators noticed were extremely heavily worn. 
They didn’t get that way on salads.

1. T. Rex’s Great Uncle

NHMU Lythronax

Just what the other animals of the prehistoric 
world needed—ten million extra years of living 
with the Tyrannosaurus rex family. That, however, 
appears to be how things were, after 
paleontologists in southern Utah announced the 
discovery of what they described as sort of a “great 
uncle” of the T. rex, which lived 80 million years 
ago—pushing the line way back from the 70 million 
year starting point previously assumed. The new 
tyrant king was a bit smaller than its fabled grand 
nephew, but that would have been little comfort to 
Cretaceous-era prey. University of Maryland 
paleontologist Thomas Hotz, Jr. described the 
beast as “banana-tooth[ed]”—and he was talking 
about size, not sharpness. The animal’s name alone
—Lythronax argestes—tells you the rest of what 
you need to know. The Lythronax part means “king 
of gore.”