10 New Bird Species and Subspecies Discovered on Indonesian Islands

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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."

This Course Will Teach You How to Play Guitar Like a Pro for $29

BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

Be honest: You’ve watched a YouTube video or two in an attempt to learn how to play a song on the guitar. Whether it was through tabs or simply copying whatever you saw on the screen, the fun always ends when friends start throwing out requests for songs you have no idea how to play. So how about you actually learn how to play guitar for real this time?

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The strumming course will teach you how to count beats and rests to turn your hands and fingers into the perfect accompaniment for your own voice or other musicians. Then, you can take things a step further and learn advanced jamming and soloing to riff anytime, anywhere. This course will teach you to improvise across various chords and progressions so you can jump into any jam with something original. You’ll also have the chance to dive deep into the major guitar genres of bluegrass, blues, and jazz. Lessons in jam etiquette, genre history, and how to read music will separate you from a novice player.

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A Prehistoric Great White Shark Nursery Has Been Discovered in Chile

Great white sharks used prehistoric nurseries to protect their young.
Great white sharks used prehistoric nurseries to protect their young.
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Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) may be one of the most formidable and frightening apex predators on the planet today, but life for them isn’t as easy as horror movies would suggest. Due to a slow growth rate and the fact that they produce few offspring, the species is listed as vulnerable to extinction.

There is a way these sharks ensure survival, and that is by creating nurseries—a designated place where great white shark babies (called pups) are protected from other predators. Now, researchers at the University of Vienna and colleagues have discovered these nurseries occurred in prehistoric times.

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, Jamie A. Villafaña from the university’s Institute of Palaeontology describes a fossilized nursery found in Coquimbo, Chile. Researchers were examining a collection of fossilized great white shark teeth between 5 and 2 million years old along the Pacific coast of Chile and Peru when they noticed a disproportionate number of young shark teeth in Coquimbo. There was also a total lack of sexually mature animals' teeth, which suggests the site was used primarily by pups and juveniles as a nursery.

Though modern great whites are known to guard their young in designated areas, the researchers say this is the first example of a paleo-nursery. Because the climate was much warmer when the paleo-nursery was in use, the researchers think these protective environments can deepen our understanding of how great white sharks can survive global warming trends.