Out Front, October 1997
Sadly, we've lost dozens of animal species over the last several decades, among them North America's magnificent ivory-billed woodpecker, the Caribbean monk seal, and the crescent nail-tail wallaby of Australia. But despite the ever-present specter of extinction, the biodiversity game isn't all about bad news. Taxonomists describe some 7,000 newly discovered insects a year, unknown frogs debut about once a month, and more than 150 new mammals have been ID'd since 1977 — including several that are, as the scientist say, big 'uns. Below, a few of our favorite arrivistes.
In Venezuela in 1991, ichthyologist Barry Chernoff netted himself an as-yet-unnamed lunker, which he jokingly calls the "Planet Mongo" fish. The head of this armored, three-foot-long catfish is covered with tiny, Velcro-like teeth; its spiny whiskers grow five inches long. To the delight of smaller fish nearby, it customarily dines on algae and bugs.
In 1988, primatologists encountered a large lemur called Tattersall's sifaka, which grows to about eight pounds and, like Tom Wolfe, usually appears all in white (except for its cap of golden fur and black face). Endangered and a bit of a homebody, the sifaka resides only in patches of forest between the Loky and Manambato Rivers in northeast Madagascar.
The Panay cloudrunner, discovered in 1987, is a charcoal-gray, two-pound rodent that shacks up in rainforest tree holes on the Philippine island of Panay and skulks around after nightfall, munching on leaves and fruit. It has a long, fuzzy, squirrelish tail. Slash-and-burn agriculture threatens its home turf.
In 1994, biologists in Vietnam's Annam Cordillera did a collective double take when they stumbled upon a hefty-looking deer that soon became known as the giant muntjac. The animal, whose pointy canine teeth lend it the appearance of a slightly rebellious Bambi, grows to about 100 pounds, half again as heavy as the previous pretender to the title of world's largest muntjac. Despite its girth, it emits a high, squeaky bark not unlike a chihuahua's.
Closer to home, wildlife biologist Paul Moler was sloshing through the bogs of the Florida Panhandle's Okaloosa County in 1982 when he noted an unfamiliar croak. Seizing the day, he chased down Rana okaloosae, which he describes as "a fairly small, basically sphagnum-colored frog." OK, we admit it's not the cutest creature we've ever seen — but they can't all be ivory-billed woodpeckers.