How Are New Animal Species Discovered?

And now, it’s time for Who Smarted?

Narrator: Hey, Smarty Pants, in case you couldn’t tell, I’m making my way through the jungle and,

George: Haa!

Narrator: Ha! Who are you?

George: I’m George. Who are you?

Narrator: I’m Trusty.

George: You’re quite big, enormous, even.

Narrator: And you’re quite small, minuscule, even.

George: You have a large nose.

Narrator: I could say the same about you.

George: What I don’t understand is how your two tiny feet can hold up your enormous torso.

Narrator: Uh, I could lose a few pounds, but I wouldn’t say enormous. Also, why does someone as small as you need six legs with comically large feet to hold themselves up?

George: Hey, my feet help me keep from slipping off wet leaves. Sorry about the big nose and torso crack.

Narrator: Yeah, I’m sorry too. I got flustered when you snuck up on me like that.

George: Snuck up on you? You’re in my house.

Narrator: Oh, I beg your pardon. I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong appropriately sized feet. I’m the Trusty narrator from the “Who Smarted” podcast, and this is my first time visiting Peru.

But I’ve traveled all over and met lots of cool creatures, but I’ve never seen a you before.

George: Well, I’ve never seen a you.

Narrator: Smarty Pants, are you thinking what I’m thinking? Have I discovered you?

George: Um, I don’t think so. I’ve lived here a while, at least two days.

Narrator: Yeah, I don’t know if two days qualifies as a while. I’m just saying, I’ve lived at my current house for 23 years.

George: 23 years? That would make you ancient.

Narrator: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s not start with the name-calling again. But maybe, just maybe, something else is going on here.

George: Like what?

Narrator: Maybe we’ve discovered each other?

George: Ooh!

Narrator: Yes. Ooh! But what does that even mean? How are new species discovered? What do you need to do to prove you’ve discovered a new species? And, how many species are still left to discover?

George: You got me. No ideas.

Narrator: It’s time to explore the possibilities as we take a big whiff of science and history on…

Who Smarted? Who Smarted? Who Smarted? Is it you? Is it me? Is it science? Or history? Listen up! Everyone! We make smarting lots of fun, on Who Smarted?

Narrator: Okay, Smarty Pants. I’m here in the jungle speaking to George, a small six-legged creature that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, anywhere, in books, on nature shows, online, in museums, or zoos, it’s like, it never existed until now.

George: Wow. You talk to yourself too? I got to say, there’s a lot of weird stuff going on with you.

Narrator: Me?

George: Yes, you. A giant creature I’ve never seen before in my life stumbles into my house and claims it discovered me? What gives?

Narrator: What gives is I’m talking to a creature I’ve never seen before or heard of before.

George: Hey, I’m just living a quiet life here on this leaf. I wake up, eat, scuttle to and fro, eat some more, try not to be eaten, poop, write some poetry, and rest.

Narrator: Sure, but what if I told you your leaf is on a bamboo plant, in the Amazon rainforest, in the country of Peru, that’s part of the continent of South America, that’s just one of seven continents on a planet, Earth, that’s one of eight planets in a solar system, in a galaxy surrounded by a vast universe containing a nearly infinite number of solar systems and galaxies. Would that blow your mind?

George: Yes.

Narrator: Look, I know this all sounds crazy, but there’s a giant world out there filled with creatures. Some look like me, some look like you, and some look like neither of us. The point is, everybody thinks they look typical when everyone else in their species looks kind of like they do.

George: My family all looks like me, but they’re dead.

Narrator: Oh no, I’m so sorry.

George: It’s okay, our lifespan’s only about a week.

Narrator: Oh, well, humans can live as long as a century, which is 100 years, give or take. Anyway, based on your observations of me, some more accurate than others, as well as your surprised reaction, I have reason to believe I’m the first of my kind to come this way.

George: Yep, or at least the two days I’ve been alive.

Narrator: Now, stay with me here. The reason I know you didn’t discover me is because there’s a wealth of scientific information describing my species. See, I’m what’s known as a homo sapien, from the Latin meaning, “Wise man.”

George: If you say so.

Narrator: [Clears throat]

George: Sorry, continue.

Narrator: I’m also an animal, and a mammal, both broader classifications. Do you know what you are?

George: Why, I’m a bee, a bee with certain certainty, with every fiber of my being, I live and breathe and poop and eat. I feel free and happy to be me. I also love to sing.

Narrator: I see. And while you are certainly free to be you, and to have me recognize you as an individual, I also may have discovered you as a species.

George: Go on.

Narrator: Now, to prove you’re a new species and classify you scientifically, I have to provide lots of evidence. This frequently includes a member of the species’ discovered, alive or dead.

George: Hmm!

Narrator: Don’t worry. I have no intention of removing you from your home or, you know? But could I maybe take your picture?

George: Oh, I’ll get my hat.

Narrator: No hat. I want to see your face. Now I have photographic proof. Next, it would be helpful to measure you. I’d say five, no, six millimeters. Also, what can you tell me regarding your species’ life cycle?

George: Well, like I mentioned, we tend to live seven days. We lay eggs that usually hatch in six to ten days.

Narrator: Ah, so you have siblings.

George: I did. I ate them. [Buhp].

Narrator: You ate them?

George: As larva. It’s no biggie. That’s how we roll.

Narrator: Okay. Do you eat other creatures?

George: Uh, mostly vegetarian; leaves, stems, fruits.

Narrator: Other evidence that might be useful includes fossils?

George: Can’t help you there.

Narrator: Hair?

George: Uh, pretty hairless.

Narrator: You’re too small to get a footprint. Oh, I know, Scat.

George: You want me to leave?

Narrator: No. I want you to poo.

George: Seriously?

Narrator: You can learn a lot about a species from its scat, aka poo. Maybe later, what else? Describe yourself.

George: I’ve got six legs, big, leaf-gripping feet. I have an exoskeleton, a super long proboscis or nose, chewing both parts, two eyes, a bumpy exterior with a sort of gray cream coloring. I’ve got cool antennae and a beautiful felt hat I wear when I tap dance.

Narrator: I love that, but no hat.

George: Why not?

Narrator: Because it doesn’t qualify as something shared amongst every member of your species. It’s a style choice, not an identifying characteristic.

George: Ah, makes sense.

Narrator: When classifying a new species, scientists analyze their evidence with the databases of all known species up to this moment, which changes rapidly now that information travels so quickly.

They must be sure their evidence is unrelated to any existing species. And now, looking at you, I’m starting to think, you’re a weevil.

George: Cool. What’s that?

Narrator: A weevil is a kind of beetle.

George: So that I’m not new.

Narrator: I didn’t say that. While many species of weevil are documented, you could be a new species of weevil. Subtle differences can account for a lot. But most likely, your species has already been discovered.

George: Ah, don’t be discouraged, Trusty. I’m sure there’s other new species out there.

Narrator: What do you think, Smarty Pants? Are there lots of new species still to discover?

George: You got me. No idea.

Narrator:: We’ll find out right after this quick break.




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Now, back to Who Smarted?

Narrator: Okay, George, over the break I checked and it seems I did not discover a new species. You’re what’s known as Rhinastis latesturnus, nicknamed the Bigfoot weevil. [Grrr, Bigfoot!] Not that Bigfoot. Oh, and Smarty Pants, you’re going to want to Google “Bigfoot weevil” after the show.

George: Okay, so you didn’t discover my species, but you discovered me. That’s exciting.

Narrator: True, but if I did discover a new species, I could choose a name for it.

George: I prefer George.

Narrator: I could also publish a highly detailed description distinguishing my discovery from all other species. Oh well.

The good news is there are lots of species out there yet to be discovered.

George: Really?

Narrator: Yep, Smarty Pants. Guess how many new species are discovered every year. Is it 18, 1800, or 18,000? The answer is approximately 18,000 new species are discovered every year. [Whoa!]

George: So how many species have already been discovered?

Narrator: So far, there are an estimated 1.2 million species that we’ve classified and studied.

George: Wow!

Narrator: But wait. There are believed to be about 8.7 million species in existence, which means there are millions of species left to discover. [Whoa!]

George: But how? And where? How could there be that many things left to discover?

Narrator: Smarty Pants, do you know? Where are all these new species hiding? Call out some answers. Uh-huh. I heard the ocean, oh, space, the woods, your backyard.

George: Oh, the Amazon rainforest.

Narrator: Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes to all of these. Earth is just teeming with biodiversity or the variety of life, and that includes the highest mountains, deepest ocean regions, and places with the hottest and coldest temperatures that are too inhospitable for scientists to explore thoroughly.

George: So you’re saying creatures can survive in places where humans can’t.

Narrator: Exactly. The conditions in these places are so difficult for humans, it limits the amount of time we can spend there, the amount of research we can conduct, and it costs more money just to be there.

George: No wonder so many species go undetected.

Narrator: Smarty Pants, people have been studying the organisms around them for at least 35,000 years. In fact, cave paintings represent their early record keeping.

George: That’s a long time.

Narrator: And in that time, many enthusiastic scientists have made huge contributions, like naturalist Charles Darwin, who traveled the world keeping detailed records of all the life he encountered. He later published his landmark theory of evolution, “The Origin of the Species.” Searching, studying, and recording, whether it’s as close as your backyard or as far away as distant galaxies, can lead you to discover new species.

George: Wow, I need to start looking around. Of course, I really don’t want to leave my leaf. What are some of the new species that have been discovered?

Narrator: I’m glad you asked, George. Between 2021 and 2022, a new biodiversity hotspot was discovered in the greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. There, they discovered a new venomous snake, a tree frog that looks like it’s covered in moss, a thick-thumbed bat, a color-changing lizard, and an orchid that looks like a muppet.

Smarty Pants, guess how many new species were classified in the Mekong region in just two years! Was it 5, 100, 380, or 600? If you said 380, you’re right.

George: And new species could be small like me, or big like you?

Narrator: Or bigger. Organisms come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns. Not to mention, small genetic changes can take place over generations. Known species may evolve to create entirely new species, a process known as speciation.

George: Cool!

Narrator: Well, George, even though you’re not a new species, it is nice to make a new friend. I can’t wait to show people back home your picture.

George: Thanks. Oh, do you think we could take another one, with the hat?




A big shout out to Nir in Richmond, Virginia, thanks so much for listening to Who Smarted? Smarty Pants. We’re glad to hear you learn something new every day. Here’s to lots of laughing, learning, and smarting together in the future.


This episode, New Species, was written by Libby Weevil Ward and voiced by Mike Previtti and Jerry Colburn. Technical direction and sound design by Josh Hahn.

Who Smarted? is recorded and mixed at the Relic Room Studios. Our associate producer is Max Kamaski. The theme song is by Brian Suarez, with lyrics written and performed by Adam Tex-Davis.

Who Smarted? was created and produced by Adam Tex-Davis and Jerry Colburn. This has been an Atomic Entertainment production.