- A team led by an Ohio State University professor analyzed over 4,000 mammal species to identify which animals are likely to have a hidden species.
- Some yet-to-be-discovered species are likely small creatures like bats, rodents, moles and shrews.
- 80% of mammals have been identified already, professor Bryan Carstens estimates.
Mammals are one of the most widely known animal species, with over 5,000 species – including humans – identified on Earth, according to The National Wildlife Federation. But with so much known, a new study suggests there are hundreds of mammals that haven’t been scientifically discovered.
The research began when Bryan Carstens, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University, wondered if there was a way to find species traits in hidden or unknown species. With the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Carstens’ graduate students were left unable to do any fieldwork. So they focused their attention to closely examining mammals.
The team used a “supercomputer and machine-learning techniques” to analyze millions of gene sequences of over 4,000 mammal species, as well as using information on where species lived and their environment.
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The results allowed scientists to build a model to identify which animals are likely to have a hidden species, a species yet to be scientifically analyzed. Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.
“This is work that’s largely done with genetics with fine scale examinations of specimens that have already been collected,” Carstens told USA TODAY.
The animals likely to be discovered aren’t big creatures nor ones with distinct differences like big cats, bears or even Sasquatch; rather, Carstens said most are likely small creatures like bats, rodents, moles and shrews.
These creatures will mostly be found in tropical rain forests since they aren’t easily accessible for humans, but they are likely present in the United States.
“You’ve probably seen one of these species,” Carstens said.
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What makes it easier for them to be seen in the US is most species we know have been discovered, but they haven’t been researched enough to see if certain population have distinct differences. Carstens alluded to a 2018 study he was involved in about the little brown bat. Found throughout the country, research showed what was one species turned out to be five different species of the bat.
“The crazy thing about this is these bats look alike. I can’t tell them apart,” Carstens said. “But genetically, they’re almost as distinct like humans and chimpanzees.”
It is unknown exactly how many mammals haven’t been recognized, but Carstens estimates 80% of mammals have been identified already.
New kinds of animals are constantly being discovered throughout the world. In January, the World Wildlife Fund announced 224 species were discovered in the Greater Mekong region in southeast Asia in 2020. Of the newly discovered species, only one was a mammal; the Popa langur, a long-tailed monkey with white rings around its eyes.
But the Popa langur was named a critically endangered species when it was discovered. The yet-to-be-discovered animals could be in a similar situation, as Carstens notes it is a possibility some species could go extinct before they are scientifically discovered.
The team doesn’t want to limit their research to just mammals either. They hope to identify more vertebrae species in the future, and hope their method will open the doors for other kinds of animal discoveries.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.