3D scan of Yaksha peretti skull

Science always finds a silver lining in even the gloomiest of storm clouds—and 2020 is no exception.

Navigating both the COVID-19 pandemic and the museum’s extended closure, Academy scientists still managed to describe a whopping 213 new species this year, from fluorescent fish in the deep reefs of the Central Pacific to ancient fossils deep in the Academy’s collections. Each species added to the tree of life enriches our understanding of our planet’s biodiversity—and gives us countless colorful reasons to protect it.

A bright spot in the twilight zone

Scientific name: Plectranthias hinano
Family: Serranidae (includes anthias, sea bass, and grouper)
Discovered in: French Polynesia
Described by: Bart Shepherd, Senior Director of Steinhart Aquarium; Luiz Rocha, PhD, Curator and Follett Chair of Ichthyology; and collaborators

This vibrant little fish inhabits MCEs (Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems) in the Central Pacific Ocean at depths of around 300 feet. A team of deep-diving scientists collected a specimen using SubCAS, a groundbreaking Academy invention designed to safely transport fish from ocean depths to sea level. Travel plans not taking you to Tahiti anytime soon? Look forward to experiencing a kaleidoscopic array of mesophotic species in the Twilight Zone exhibit when the Academy reopens.

  • a
    P. hinano appears gray at depth, likely concealing it from predators. Tim Wong © California Academy of Sciences
  • Diverse colorful corals grow on a mesophotic coral reef
    Mesophotic reefs can be found 100-500 feet below the surface. Luiz Rocha © California Academy of Sciences
  • Academy ichthyologist Luiz Rocha in scuba gear
    When descending into the twilight zone, Luiz Rocha uses rebreather equipment for longer, deeper dives.

Technicolor Chromodoris

Scientific name: Chromodoris spp.
Family: Chromodorididae (includes nudibranchs)
Discovered in: Indo-Pacific region
Described by: Terry Gosliner, Senior Curator of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, and Lynn Bonomo, master’s student, San Francisco State University

“The really big researchers are the ones who name species. I never thought I would name a species.” Lynn Bonomo was right. She didn’t name a nudibranch species—she named four. The new Chromodoris species she described display striking colors and eye-popping patterns that likely serve to warn would-be predators of the animals’ toxicity. Tune in to NightSchool on January 7 to hear Lynn and Terry discuss their discoveries.

  • Chromodoris baqe nudibranch by Terry Gosliner
    A Chromodoris baqe nudibranch. Terry Gosliner © 2020 California Academy of Sciences
  • Chromodoris balat nudibranch by Terry Gosliner
    Chromodoris balat nudibranch. Terry Gosliner © 2020 California Academy of Sciences
  • Chromodoris quagga nudibranch by Terry Gosliner
    A Chromodoris quagga nudibranch. Terry Gosliner © 2020 California Academy of Sciences
  • Marine biology student Lynn Bonomo in white lab coat and goggles
    Lynn is currently working on her master's thesis on biodiversity within the nudibranch genus Goniobranchus.

Making (ancient) history

Scientific name: Lyropecten terrysmithae
Family: Pectinidae (includes scallops)
Discovered in: Invertebrate Zoology & Geology collections
Described by: Charles Powell, II, Academy Research Associate; Chrissy Garcia, Collections Manager, Geology; Cheryl Millard

Comprising over 46 million specimens from microscopic bacteria to massive whale skeletons, the Academy’s scientific collections are a dazzling library of life. They’re also a frequent epicenter of discovery. During a review of fossil collections from institutions across California, Powell, Garcia, and Millard were able to pick up where mollusk expert Dr. Judy Terry Smith left off, describing an all-new, 11-million-year-old scallop species—and naming it after the pioneering paleontologist herself.

  • Specimen photograph of ancient scallop Lyropecten terrysmithae
    The L. terrysmithae specimen formerly known as L. estrellanus. Chrissy Garcia © California Academy of Sciences
  • Geology collections manager Chrissy Garcia displays a coral specimen
    “Increasingly, specimens housed in museum collections are the only remaining evidence of the existence of many species,” says Garcia.

Stuck in time

Scientific name: Yaksha peretti
Family: Albanerpetontidae (includes extinct amphibians)
Discovered in: Myanmar
Described by: Aaron Bauer, PhD, Research Associate, and collaborators

Fossils alone are a paleontological payday, but fossils in amber are the jackpot, preserving details of a specimen that might otherwise be lost to the ages. “To have this unique opportunity to look at a complete skull that is not deformed as many are gives us a look into the face of an animal that lived 100 million years ago,” explains Bauer. “It might be decades before another specimen of this quality appears.”

  • Yaksha peretti ancient amphibian fossil in amber
    Y. peretti in amber. Dr. Adolf Peretti, GRS Gemresearch Swisslab AG © Peretti Museum Foundation, Meggen, Switzerland
  • GIF of 3D scan of Yaksha peretti skull
    A 3D scan of Yaksha peretti’s skull. Edward L Stanley © 2020
  • An artist’s rendering of Yaksha peretti launching its “ballistic” tongue
    An artist’s rendering of Y. peretti launching its “ballistic” tongue. Stephanie Abramowicz © Peretti Museum Foundation
  • Aaron Bauer holding a Bornean earless monitor lizard
    Dr. Bauer displaying a Bornean Earless Monitor (Lanthanotus borneensis) in Sarawak, Malaysia.
Learn more

Check out our press release for more stories behind the science of this year's 213 new species.

About IBSS

The mission of the Academy's Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability (IBSS) is to gather new knowledge about life's diversity and the process of evolution—and to rapidly apply that understanding to our efforts to regenerate life on Earth.

Support new discoveries

Our doors may be temporarily closed, but science never stops. Make a gift of any size to ensure 2021 is a banner year for research, education, and exploration.