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."

Not-So-Fancy Feast: Your Cat Probably Would Eat Your Rotting Corpse

Tycson1/iStock via Getty Images
Tycson1/iStock via Getty Images

Cat enthusiasts often cite the warmth and companionship offered by their pet as reasons why they’re so enamored with them. Despite these and other positive attributes, cat lovers are often confronted with the spurious claim that, while their beloved furry pal might adore them when they’re alive, it won’t hesitate to devour their corpse if they should drop dead.

Though that’s often dismissed as negative cat propaganda spread by dog people, it turns out that it’s probably true. Fluffy might indeed feast on your flesh if you happened to expire.

A horrifying new case study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences offers the fresh evidence. The paper, first reported by The Washington Post, documents how two cats reacted in the presence of a corpse at Colorado Mesa University’s Forensic Investigation Research Station, or body farm, where the deceased are used to further forensic science for criminal investigations.

The study’s authors did not orchestrate a meeting between cat and corpse. The finding happened by accident: Student and lead author Sara Garcia was scanning surveillance footage of the grounds when she noticed a pair of cats trespassing. The cats, she found, were interested in the flesh of two corpses; they gnawed on human tissue while it was still in the early stages of decomposition, stopping only when the bodies began leaching fluids.

The cats, which were putting away one corpse each, didn’t appear to have a taste for variety, as they both returned to the same corpse virtually every night. The two seemed to prefer the shoulder and arm over other body parts.

This visual evidence joins a litany of reports over the years from medical examiners, who have observed the damage left by both cats and dogs who were trapped in homes with deceased owners and proceeded to eat them. It’s believed pets do this when no other food source is available, though in some cases, eating their human has occurred even with a full food bowl. It’s something to consider the next time your cat gives you an affectionate lick on the arm. Maybe it loves you. Or maybe it has something else in mind.

[h/t The Washington Post]

7 Animals That Appear to Fly (Besides Birds, Bats, and Insects)

renacal1/iStock via Getty Images
renacal1/iStock via Getty Images

The only animals that can truly fly are birds, insects, and bats. Other animals manage to travel through the air by gliding from great heights or leaping from the depths. Here are a few.

1. Devil Rays

The devil rays, in the genus Mobula, are related to manta rays. Their wingspan can grow up to 17 feet wide, making them the second-largest group of rays after the mantas. These muscular fish can leap several feet out of the water, but no one is quite sure why they do it.

2. Colugos

These tree-dwelling gliders are sometimes called flying lemurs, but they're neither true lemurs nor do they fly. These mammals in the genus Cynocephalus are native to Southeast Asia and are about the size of a house cat. Colugos can glide up to 200 feet between trees using their patagium, or flaps of skin between their front and hind legs that extend to their tail and neck (colugos are even webbed between their toes). In the air, they can soar gracefully through the forest, but on the ground, they look like an animated pancake.

3. Flying Fish

Flying fish

There are about 40 different species of flying fish in the family Exocoetidae, although they don't fly so much as they leap from the water with a push of their powerful pectoral fins. Most of the species live in tropical waters. Fish have been observed skipping over the waves for as long as 45 seconds and 650 feet. Scientists suspect that flying fish leap into the air to escape predators.

4. Paradise Tree Snake

The paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) lives in the rain forests of Southeast Asia. It glides from the treetops by flattening its body out to maximize surface area, wiggling from side to side to go in the desired direction. Though the idea of a flying snake may be terrifying, C. paradisi is not harmful to humans.

5. Flying Geckos

Flying geckos, a group of gliding lizards in the genus Gekko, live in the wet forests of Southeast Asia. In addition to patagia that let them parachute from tree branches, the geckos have remarkably mutable skin that camouflages them against tree trunks extremely well.

6. Wallace's Flying Frog

Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus) is found in Malaysia and Indonesia. This frog has long webbed toes and a skin flap between its limbs which allows it to parachute—float downward at a steep angle—from the treetops. Although Wallace's flying frogs prefer to live in the forest canopy, they must descend to ground level to mate and lay eggs.

7. Flying Squirrels

Flying squirrels in the subfamily Sciurinae include dozens of species. They are native to North America and Eurasia. When it leaps from a tall tree, a flying squirrel will spread its patagium until it resembles a kite or parachute. The squirrel can steer by moving its wrists and adjusting the tautness of its skin.