The invasive lionfish may be beautiful, but has already wreaked havoc in the Caribbean. Governments are encouraging fishermen to catch it for consumption. (NOAA)
The bad news is serious, and we must face it and digest it as we try to limit of reverse the damage we've done to the planet. However, there remain points of light and moments of reassurance when we discover or rediscover a precious piece of the natural world. Every bit of knowledge added to zoology is a step toward conservation, and should be celebrated, even if the creature involved might be dismissed by the general public as small and not very interesting. There was definite celebration this year in Nepal, at least among bird lovers. The red-faced liocichla () has been missing for 178 years. A small bird with yellow-green or blue-gray body plumage set off by bright flashes of color on the head and wings, it was presumed extinct in that country, although it has fairly stable populations in neighboring nations and Indochina. Nepalese ornithologists applauded the bird's first definite appearance in their nation since the 19th century.
A known animal in a previously unknown location is another kind of discovery. Consider an eyeless cave fish, the Mexican blindcat, which was just found for the first time in Texas. The near-transparent 7.5cm fish's appearance so far north raises the possibility of undiscovered caverns connecting underneath the human-imposed border. (Insert political jokes HERE.)
A new species of lizard has been added to the world's known reptiles after discovery of two specimens in China. Ptychozoon bannaense has a body not much longer than the just-mentioned cave fish's, but has a stocky build and a camouflage coloration pattern that make it look bigger and tougher than it is. A dark, elongated new salamander has turned up thanks to a review of specimens from Honduras, Oedipina capitalina lives near the capital of Tegucigalpa (where my oldest daughter was born). Two new frogs hopped into view in India, and another lizard, Liolaemus parthenos (the species consists entirely of parthenogenic females) is reported from Argentina.
We find new things about known species, too. Scientists are constantly taking new looks at known species, even well-known species, and coming away with new insights. Take the case of Kenneth Catania of Vanderbilt University, who just discovered that old myths about electric eels leaping out of a pond to stun prey are not myths.
The electric eel cannot be called beautiful, but can certainly be called dangerous. (NOAA)
A big eel-like fish (not a true eel) whose shock can knock a human unconscious should at least stay in the water, right? Instead it will shoot its forebody above the surface so the sells on its chin make contact with prey.
I sense a new SyFy electric eel movie is on the way. That would be a kind of bad news all by itself. But the point is, the news is never all bad. There are still discoveries being made, species being saved, and new knowledge being gained. The future is challenging, but it isn't hopeless.
(To learn about new species discovered in the mid-20th-to early 21st centuries, I naturally recommend Shadows of Existence: Discoveries and Speculations in Zoology. It's lively, fact-packed, beautifully illustrated, and I need the royalties. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to https://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Existence-Discoveries-Speculations-Zoology/dp/0888396120.