From a cartwheeling spider to a fish that hops on its fins and a katydid species that uses drumming to communicate, scientists are finding about 18,000 new species each year. Conniff reveals that so far, humans have identified about 2 million species, and the total number may be anywhere from 10 million to 100 million. He traveled to the remote country of Suriname on the northeastern coast of South America to take a firsthand look at what species discovery is all about.
We recommend this interview (click the Listen button in the banner above) with Richard Conniff on one of the WNYC programs we depend on for variety of perspectives as we pay attention to news about wellness, biodiversity and other topics of interest. Thanks to Smithsonian magazine for publishing Conniff’s story:
Today’s explorers and scientists are identifying new species at a rate that would’ve amazed Charles Darwin
The article opens with a few paragraphs sure to catch the interest of our birder friends:
It’s sunset on an unnamed mountain, in an unexplored corner of one of the greenest countries on earth. We’ve arrived by helicopter across a rumpled landscape of swamps and hills, and it feels as if we’re the first humans ever to pass the night here.
Now five of us sit on a remote ridge of Suriname’s Grensgebergte Mountains, watching the mist settle over forested hills beyond forested hills, along the border with Brazil. A pair of macaws fly below us, showing off their brilliant colors. A hummingbird whips past, hovers briefly to sip nectar from a costus flower, and vanishes again into the dusk.
“What the hell was that?” cries Brian O’Shea, an ornithologist from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “That’s not a great-billed hermit. That’s something totally different.” His head swivels toward a fellow birder. “Did you see how long the tail was? We have to investigate that.”
Somewhere out along the ridge, a flock of marbled wood quail call like a cuckoo clock striking the hour. The scrim of daytime sky gives way to a bright spangle of stars. The birders go off in search of other bird songs, and the herpetologists head out to chase frogs into the night.Back at base camp a few days later, Piotr Naskrecki, an entomologist from Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, remains incredulous. “A new hummingbird? Impossible. I mean, it would be fantastic. It would make this trip.” He hesitates just long enough for his competitive instincts to kick in. “Well, not really. I have better stuff.” Then he heads off to catch a flight to the mountaintop…