10 New Bird Species and Subspecies Discovered on Indonesian Islands

adiartana/iStock via Getty Images
adiartana/iStock via Getty Images

As many as 18,000 new species are discovered each year, very few of which are birds. Birds as a group are highly studied, and only 161 new bird species were identified between 1990 and 2019. So when 10 new species and subspecies of songbirds were recently found on a remote trio of islands in Indonesia, it showed that there's a lot more to learn about the ancient class of animals.

Lead researcher Frank Rheindt, an evolutionary biologist at the National University of Singapore, and his colleagues describe their findings in a new study published in the journal Science. During a six-week expedition through the islands of Taliabu, Peleng, and Batudaka in Indonesia's Wallacean island chain, the research team documented five previously unknown songbird species and five subspecies. It's the first time in over a century that so many new bird species have been identified in such a small, isolated environment.

All 10 of the new birds in the study are small songbirds. Some, like the Taliabu Myzomela, with its bright scarlet head and belly, have colorful plumage. Others were noted for their distinct vocalizations; describing the Peleng Fantail, the study authors wrote, "When we first found the species in the field, the bird stood out through its unusual, simple descending song that lacks the typical complex tinkling quality of [similar species]."

"It is remarkable that—even for birds, which are the best-known animal group on Earth—there is still a place that yields so many new species and subspecies," Rheindt tells Mental Floss.

The region has long been known for its biodiversity. It's where Alfred Russel Wallace—the British naturalist for whom the island chain is named—gathered the data that helped him develop his theory of evolution in the 19th century. Today, the islands are thought to host 2 percent of all the world's bird species.

Despite its reputation, the Wallacean archipelago is under-explored. When planning their expedition, the researchers used bathymetry, or the study of sea depth, to locate the islands that had the deepest waters surrounding them, and therefore had been isolated from other landmasses for the longest amounts of time. "This geographic isolation—coupled with the fact that these islands had been largely neglected by historic collectors such as Alfred Russel Wallace—made us suspect that they may harbor a number of undiscovered endemic species that are unique to these islands and not shared with anywhere else in the world," Rheindt says.

The team's success suggests that similar remote regions around the world could be hotbeds of undiscovered biodiversity waiting to be studied.

There are roughly 11,000 bird species currently recognized by biologists, but it's estimated that there are thousands more that haven't been identified. As climate change and other threats related to human activity have caused the disappearance of 3 billion birds in North America alone, documenting and understanding new species while they're still around is more important than ever.

"In this era of environmental crisis, we need a resurgence in biodiversity discovery," Rheindt says. "How will we know what to save if we don’t even know what biodiversity is out there? Which islands hold high degrees of endemic species not shared with any other place on Earth? Which islands are less special, because most of their species are not unique? Only a renaissance of biodiversity rediscovery will enable us to make smart decisions when it comes to directing our limited conservation resources to the right places on Earth."

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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The Reason Your Dog Stares at You

Dogs stare for a number of different reasons.
Dogs stare for a number of different reasons.
sankai/iStock via Getty Images

Sooner or later, every dog owner will find their pet expressing an innate curiosity over even the most mundane of actions. Watching television? The dog will observe you closely. Folding laundry? The dog will stare at you like you’re a Magic Eye poster.

You can tell the dog it’s rude, but they’ll continue doing it. So why do dogs stare at us?

It often has little to do with what we’re doing and is more about what we might do. Dogs are big on visual cues. They know a walk is preceded by you picking up their leash; dinnertime might involve going to the pantry; a car ride means grabbing the keys. If they get a treat by obeying a command, then they know you’re probably going to start pointing at them and want to make sure they don’t miss it. In keeping an eye on you, a dog is looking for hints that you’re going to do something they want.

Dogs may also use staring as a method to train their owner. Most people are more likely to slip a dog something off their dinner plate if the dog is looking up at them wistfully. If that behavior is rewarded, then the dog knows giving you a pleading look may result in some pork chops landing at their feet.

But not all dogs stare out of greed. For dogs, just like humans, making eye contact releases oxytocin, otherwise known as the “love hormone.” It’s a bonding experience for humans and their animal companions.

Of course, staring can have other connotations, particularly if it’s not a dog you know very well. An unblinking, focused stare with a rigid body posture can mean the dog is feeling territorial or might be considering taking a bite out of you. It’s best to back away. It’s also not advisable to hold a dog still and stare at them, as this might be considered an act of aggression.

The next time you catch your dog eyeing you, it’s likely they’re hoping for a walk, a treat, or just want to bond. Absent other methods of communication, staring is an effective way for getting their humans to behave.

[h/t American Kennel Club]