Taxonomy Crisis: 5.4 Million of the World’s Species Are Still Unnamed

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Whale Shark

Getty images/ Stuart Westmorland

Only a quarter of the world’s species have been identified because of insufficient funding and a shortage of taxonomists.

Over the past 12 months, 16,000 species have been found, bringing the number of the known animal kingdom to 1.4 million. But 5.4 million species are lurking around that we have not yet discovered, and it would cost over $263 billion to find them. Insects will be feeling most neglected, because while we have found 62,000 vertebrates so far, there’s far less focus on our backbone-free counterparts.

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You may find you’re drawn more by vertebrates, like the Barreleye fish, a transparent-headed fish with green orbs as eyes, or the colorful New Amazon bald parrot. Yet invertebrates can be just as exotic and even more mysterious. Take a certain kind of Zooplankton, extraordinary microscopic marine animals with beaded stinging cells that stretch a meter away from the main body.

Discovering new species is not just about the thrill of chasing fascinating creatures. Thanks to taxonomists,  we have a better understanding of the role of biodiversity. They diagnose pests and disease organisms, and measure the impact of climate change on biodiversity. Now you might want to get your snorkel mask and flippers out, or take a trip to the Amazon.

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