An Ark of new species: discovering new animals in natural history collections 6/11/2017

New Scientist reports that natural history collections in museums have become as important as forays into the wild for discovering new species. More than 1000 new species of beetles are identified each year in the collections of the Natural History Museum alone, but snakes, amphibians and even large mammals have been newly identified through museum holdings. 75% of new finds in nature are found to be already in museum collections somewhere in the world. This is partly because of the painstaking business of identification and classification: on average this takes 21 years across all organisms. Misclassification is also a risk: a plant research project by the University of Oxford and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 21 countries found half of all species had been wrongly named. The article also explores risks to natural history collections, from underfunding, to the April 2016 fire which destroyed the National Museum of Natural History in New Delhi. However, there are also some extraordinary finds: a new species of ape was collected by the American Museum of Natural History in 1917, but misidentified until earlier this year, when it was named the Skywalker hoolock gibbon. On a more micro scale, a beetle collected by Darwin in 1832 languished unclassified in the Natural History Museum for 180 years until finally receiving the name Darwinilus sedarisi - its discoverer had been listening to audiobooks of comic writer David Sedaris as he wrote the tiny creature’s description. New Scientist (paywall)