351 new species named by Natural History Museum – and a quarter are wasps

New varieties of the insect include species that could be useful for controlling crop pests

Eighty-five new species of wasp are among more than 350 new species identified in 2022 by the Natural History Museum, and scientists say there are many more to come.

By combing through its collections, as well as sending scientists on research trips, curators and researchers have managed to describe a total of 351 new species.

The largest group of new discoveries was the wasp, including some miniature creatures with what scientists describe as “beautiful, feather-like wings”.

The tiny parasitic wasps from the family Megaphragma are some of the smallest insects in the world, but researchers found they may be important for agriculture. The insects parasitise the eggs of thrips, a type of insect that can cause crop damage, and as such the wasps may be important biological control agents.

Dr Gavin Broad is the principal curator in charge of insects at the museum and an expert in Hymenoptera, the group that contains wasps. He said: “It’s no surprise that new wasp species came out on top, it’s just a surprise that wasps don’t come top every year.

“The abundance of parasitoid wasps makes the order Hymenoptera the most species-rich order of insects, but its is way behind some other groups in terms of actual species descriptions. Watch out for lots more wasps next year.”

Scientists also named 84 species of beetle, 34 species of moths, 23 species of moss animals (also known as bryozoans) and 13 species of trematode worms. There were also 12 new species of protists, seven species of flies, two bumblebees from Asia, two polychaete worms from the depths of the oceans and a centipede with a number of segments that has never been seen by scientists before.

Other notable discoveries this year include 19 new species of stick insect, which all hailed from the tropics of Australia. Scientists used genetic analysis to tell them all apart.

Some vertebrates were discovered, too, including a new species of gecko from Seychelles, three species of fish and seven species of frogs.

Six of these frog species are tiny, and are among the smallest known vertebrates. They were discovered in Mexico, and grow to just eight millimetres in length. It is not yet known why they evolved to be so small.

Though many of the species described by scientists have been known for some time by the local people who live alongside them, the Natural History Museum said it is important to give them official names so they can be monitored and protected from the impacts of climate breakdown.

With more species lost every year, it is a race against time to name them all before they go extinct so they can be saved, the scientists said.

Researchers described a total of 11 new species of algae this year, both fossil and living, while four new species of plants were described from across southern Asia.

Dr Sandra Knapp from the Natural History Museum was involved with the description of these new plant species.

She said: “Although flowering plants are relatively well known as far as groups of organisms go, it is estimated that even though we have given about 450,000 species scientific names, there are about 25% of that left to describe. Not to discover – for sure, these things we don’t know about are known by local and Indigenous peoples where they occur – we taxonomists just give them names that put them into the language of global botany.

“Most plants have a variety of names, some specific to an area or language group, others more widespread, but the scientific names we coin can be used by anyone anywhere. This means there is a common language, one of the things we really need to help bend the curve for biodiversity. After all, if we can’t talk about a species, how can we wish to save it?”

The Wildlife Trusts also made some significant marine life discoveries this year, including a new species of coral found at depths up to 2,000m in the Rockall Trench, about 240 miles off Scotland’s west coast, a 100-year-old Greenland shark washed up at Newlyn, Cornwall, and new records of sea slugs.

The Manx Wildlife Trust saw the first ever swordfish recorded off the Isle of Man, Leicester and Rutland Wildlife Trust unearthed the fossilised remains of Britain’s largest ichthyosaur, a prehistoric “sea dragon”, and Albie, the only known albatross in the northern hemisphere, returned to Bempton cliffs in Yorkshire.

The charity said this life is under threat from pressures including the global avian flu pandemic which has killed thousands of seabirds across the UK, to pollution including oil spills and plastic, as well as people irresponsibly disturbing wildlife.


Helena Horton Environment reporter

The GuardianTramp

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