Six new dinosaurs, an Indian beetle named after the cat Larry and dozens of crustaceans critical of the planet’s carbon cycle, were among 552 new species identified by scientists at the Natural History Museum this year.
In 2021, scientists described unprecedented species across the tree of life, from a pair of giant carnivorous dinosaurs known as spinosaurs – nicknamed the “riverbank hunter” and the “hell heron” – to five new snakes, including Joseph’s breeds, which were identified using a 185 year old painting.
With international travel to field sites limited, scientists at the London-based museum concentrated on describing existing collections and species that roamed the earth millions of years ago.
“It’s been a fantastic year for the description of new dinosaurs, especially from the UK,” said Dr. Susannah Maidment, a senior researcher in paleobiology at the museum, who helped describe some of the new finds. “Although we have known about Britain’s dinosaur heritage for over 150 years, the application of new techniques and new data from around the world helps us uncover a hidden diversity of British dinosaurs.”
Spinosaurs were among four British dinosaur species described by scientists along with a new iguanodontian with an unusual snout from the Isle of Wight, and Pendraig milnerae, the earliest known carnivorous dinosaur from Britain.
More than half of the new species identified at the museum this year were copepods, small shrimp-like creatures found in salt and fresh water. They make up a large proportion of zooplankton, which feed on krill, fish and other invertebrates, and play a crucial role in the planet’s ecology and carbon cycle.
Due to their abundance, copepods are among some of the largest carbon sinks in the oceans. Researchers described 291 species this year, many from a collection created over six decades by French scientists Claude and Françoise Monniot.
“Copepods are not only free-living, but many are parasites, and they can be found in virtually all other major animal groups,” said Prof Geoff Boxshall, a researcher in the museum’s Department of Life Sciences who identified the crustaceans with a South Korean. colleague, Il-Hoi Kim.
“The huge Monniot collection was made available to Il-Hoi Kim and myself, and since we are both recently retired, we theoretically had time to finally review it. But the collection was so huge that it was something scary – but then Covid-19 happened, and the completion of the series of papers became my lockdown project. “
Other newly identified species included 52 wasps, 13 moths, seven crabs, six flies and five amphipods. Beetles were largely as they did in 2020, with 90 new species described. They included a pair of purple and green metallic beetles from India, a monochromatic beetle with a large pair of jaws from the Philippines and a marsh-loving beetle named in honor of the cat Larry, the Downing Street musician.
A new bush cricket from Southeast Asia, known for its song before the animal was ever seen, was finally destined to be a species found in Singapore – now known as Mecopoda simonodoi – one of which has actually been in the museum since 1984.
Five new species of plants from East Africa were identified: known as jewelweeds or touch-me-nots, they usually produce delicate pink or white flowers, except for a few species that have switched to red flowers to attract birds rather than butterflies for pollination.
In addition to the plants, eight new algae species, six parasitic worms and three diatoms – single-celled algae were identified.