Humans have made their way to the moon, landed rovers on Mars and sent spacecraft to the outer reaches of the solar system. But the Earth remains a little-known planet. That becomes clear when naturalists look for creatures closer to home and find unknown gems. Here are our favorite new species of 2016.
Tumbleweeds are synonymous with the American West, At some point to form a new species, Salsola ryanii, which is about 5 feet in height and nearly as wide. After quickly growing and flowering, it dries and then its stem breaks, allowing it to tumble in the wind, spreading seeds as it goes. Usually, such hybrids are sterile, but in this case, the plant underwent an unusual genetic event that led to a duplication of its entire genome. That allowed it to reproduce and also made it incompatible with either of its parents. It has been found at 15 sites throughout California. “It’s extremely rare to catch a new species in the act of appearing and expanding,” says Norm Ellstrand, a professor of genetics at University of California, Riverside, “and very exciting.”
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When biologist Jean Krejca unearthed an extremely leggy millipede in a remote cave in California’s Sequoia National Park, she knew it was special, so she sent it to the millipede experts Bill Shear and Paul Marek, who determined it was a new species and gave it the n