Over 300 scientists work at the Museum. Many of them carry out expeditions to collect new specimens, both in the UK and abroad.
Recently, Museum scientists have visited countries as diverse as Costa Rica, Colombia and India to find out more about the local wildlife. They have often discovered previously unknown species.
Here are some of their discoveries, including new moths, miniature fish and dung beetles.
Amphorotia hispida is a freshwater diatom discovered recently in Lake Baikal, Russia by Museum scientists. Amphorotia hispida belongs to a genus which itself has only recently been discovered. Find out more about this fascinating species.
Asplenium nidus, bird’s nest ferns, are a common sight in the rainforests of south-east Asia, growing high up in the canopy. Falling leaves are trapped by the fronds, and the fern and its contents can weigh up to 200kg. They become mini ecosystems, and are home to thousands of insects and other animals. Discover more about this giant of the rainforest canopy.
Leafcutter ants are the subject of the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010 winning photograph. Ants in the genus Atta harvest leaves to cultivate fungus that they then eat. Castes of ants fulfil a range of tasks including collecting vegetation, tending fungus gardens, construction and defence. Find out more about this fascinating species.
Freshwater snails in the genus Bulinus are exceptionally important in Africa as carriers of disease. Species including Bulinus truncatus act as a host for the parasitic worm that causes schistosomiasis - a disease that currently affects 164 million people worldwide. Find out more.
Chaudhuria ritvae is a tiny fish that is only now making its debut. It is an earthworm eel species, about the size of a match. It was first discovered in a shallow pool in Myanmar, by Ritva Roesler and Dr Ralf Britz in 2003. It has now been formally described and named by Ralf Britz, one of the Museum's fish researchers. Find out more about this minute fish and its diminutive relatives.
Chorthippus parallelus is the most common and widespread grasshopper in England, Wales and Scotland. It is usually green or brown and well camouflaged in its grassland habitats, but occasionally adult females are a striking pink colour. Find out more about this eye-catching grasshopper and the perils it faces.
Clipeoparvus anatolicus is an unusual small, centric diatom that was found in a crater-lake (Nar Gölü) in the continental semi-arid region of Cappadocia, Central Turkey. Clipeoparvus anatolicus is a newly discovered species, belonging to a newly defined genus, recently described by Museum Scientist, Dr Eileen Cox, and Dr Jessie Woodbridge from the University of Plymouth. Find out more about Clipeoparvus anatolicus.
The Chacoan mouse opossum, is a tiny marsupial that seems to be thriving in Paraguay despite deforestation. The type specimen of this species was collected in Sapucay over a hundred years ago, and resides in the Museum’s collections. This species has been overlooked for decades as it was confused with Gracilinanus agilis. Explore the history of this ‘hidden dwarf’.
Danaea kalevala is a large fern known from the tropical rainforests of the Lesser Antilles. It takes its species name, kalevala, from a famous Finnish book and epic poem and can live for several centuries depending on the conditions of its habitat. Find out more about this fern.
The miniature fish Danionella dracula was described scientifically for the first time in 2009 by Museum scientists. The species has evolved many unusual characteristics. Males have tooth-like processes on their jaws which resemble canine fangs and this striking feature earned the species the name 'dracula'. Find out more.
This miniature fish from India is new to science. One of our researchers described it scientifically for the first time in a paper published in October 2009. Find out what is known so far about Danionella priapus.
Dendrobaena attemsi is a European earthworm species that is sometimes found in woodland in southern parts of Britain. It lives in the upper layers of the soil where it feeds on dead organic matter. Find out more about this worm’s lifecycle, and why it is likely to become more widespread in the UK.
Euphrasia grandiflora is a striking plant that occurs only in the Azores archipelago where it lives on other plants at the edges of volcanic larva flows and craters. Only 2,000 individuals of this species remain, and numbers are dwindling as its habitat disappears. Find out more about this delicate plant and its unique habitat.
Lumbricus terrestris is the UK’s largest earthworm. It builds deep vertical burrows and forages for food at night, holding on to its burrow with its flattened tail. Charles Darwin studied this important soil organism in great detail. His experiments explain how this worm manages to drag its leaf-litter supper into its burrow. Find out more.
This species of spiny eel, discovered in a hill stream in Myanmar, has recently been described by Museum fish researcher Dr Ralf Britz, making it new to science. Find out what we know about Macrognathus pavo.
Malagopsis doggeri is a recently discovered parasitic wasp that takes its name from a pet dog. To date there has only been one specimen collected. Find out more about Malagopsis doggeri.
This free-living nematode worm was discovered in Kuwait in 2004 and named after an ancient Greek musical instrument. Find out more about Manunema kithara and nematode worms, the most abundant multicelluar animals on Earth.
Budgerigars are one of the world’s best-loved birds. They have been bred in captivity for more than 170 years and come in all shapes and sizes. But all captive budgies are descended from a single species of Australian parrot that lives in arid conditions in the Australian interior. Find out more about the budgie’s colourful history and how it provides fascinating insights into both natural and artificial selection.
Nannocharax signifer is a newly described species of African darter fish discovered by Museum scientists in the Ouémé River basin, Benin, West Africa. Find out more about how Nannocharax signifer was distinguished from other known Nannocharax species.
The interestingly named bone-eating snot-flower worm, Osedax mucofloris, was discovered and described in 2005 after it was found living on whale bones on the sea floor. Find out more about this surprising discovery, and the big questions that it raised.
Find out more about Pangio longimanus, the miniature eel-loach, which was described scientifically for the first time in February 2010 by one of our fish experts. The fish are tiny, growing to less than 23mm.
Phormidium pseudpriestleyi is a cyanobacterium that is well adapted to life in Antarctica where it is found in lakes and ponds. It protects itself against cold by producing antifreeze compounds, and against intense ultra-violet radiation with pigments that act as UV screens. Find out how you might spot this unusual bacterium.
Phyllonoma ruscifolia is a keystone species notable for the unique positioning and formation of its flower clusters. Find out more about the Near Threatened Phyllonoma ruscifolia.
Pilea matama was first discovered and described from the Talamanca Mountain range in Central America in 2009 by one of the Museum’s botanists - Dr Alex Monro. It is a small herb that grows under the forest canopy and is a member of the nettle family, Urticaceae. Find out more about this delightful plant, its beautiful foliage and amazing tiny flowers.
Indigenous people in parts of Central and South America have an unusual way of dyeing cloth - by milking snails. Plicopurpura pansa produces a thick liquid from a gland which turns a rich indigo when exposed to sunlight. Find out how the dye is harvested and why its increasing popularity has an adverse effect on snail populations.
Porphyra umbilicalis is a red seaweed found on north Atlantic seashores. It is one of several species known as laver. Laver has been eaten for thousands of years in various parts of the world. In Wales it is eaten as laverbread; in Japanese sushi, the black wrapping around rice known as nori is a species of Porphra; and in Chile, people prefer to eat laver with boiled potatoes. Find out more about this tasty species.
Ratnadvipia karui belongs to a genus of land snails that is endemic to Sri Lanka. Ratnadvipia karui was discovered and described by Museum scientists carrying out field work in Sri Lanka. Find out more about Ratnadvipia karui.
Rhinatrema bivittatum is a tropical amphibian from a group known as caecilians. It looks like a large worm and lives in soil. Find out why, and how, Museum scientists are using this species to study the early evolution of caecilians.
Discovered in central Brazil, Scolopendropsis duplicata is a species of scolopendromorph centipede that represents the first known instance of a scolopendromorph having variable segment numbers (either 39 or 43) in a population. Find out more about this species.
Solanum aculeastrum is recognised by its bright yellow berry, which is often compared to lemons. It is found across African highlands where it has a range of uses, from hedges to medicinal treatments. Find out more about this species.
Solanum dulcamara known as woody nightshade is a common European weed that has spread around the world. Woody nightshade was used in European folk medicine for hundreds of years, although its benefits remain unproven. Solanum dulcamara can be invasive and is a carrier of the bacteria that causes potato rot. Find out more about Solanum dulcamara
Solanum sanchez-vegae is a member of the same group of plants as the European woody nightshade, from Peru. Solanum sanchez-vegae was only recently found and described by Museum scientists and named in honour of their Peruvian collaborators. Find out more.
Solanum sisymbriifolium is a prickly plant with sticky leaves and bright red fruits. It is native to South America, where it grows like a weed. It has been grown in Europe since the 18th century, where it is known as viscid nightshade thanks to the tiny hairs on its leaves and fruits. Discover more about this ‘spiny’ plant, and how farmers use it to control a potato pest.
Solemya velesiana is a marine shellfish found in Australian seagrass beds that belongs to an ancient group of clams that date back over 400 million years. It propels itself using an extendable foot and swims by opening and closing its shell. Bacteria are the key to this mollusc’s diet. Read on to find out how Solemya velesiana feeds.
Named after Royal Brunei Airlines, Sorolopha bruneiregalis is known from montane areas in Brunei, Sabah and northern Sulawesi. Find out more about this species.
Syrrhopodon mahensis is a moss species that grows on tree trunks, rocks and soil on islands in the western Indian Ocean. It has lance-like leaves that possess a distinctive transparent basal region. This unusual leaf base identifies S. mahensis as a member of the tropical moss family Calymperaceae. Find out more about this tropical moss, and where you might find it.
Syzygium aromaticum is commonly known as the clove tree. Cloves - the pungent, hard, brown, nail-shaped spice we are familiar with - are dried, unopened flower buds from the tree. Find out how the buds are collected, and explore the myriad of other ways this aromatic tree can be used.
Trentepohlia abietina is often mistaken for a lichen, but it is an alga that forms the striking orange patches you see on tree trunks. Surprisingly, it is one of the green algae - Chlorophyta, but its green chlorophyll is masked by a red-coloured pigment. It is easy to spot and is becoming increasingly common in Britain. Find out how you might identify it.
Trichopodiella faurei is a marine ciliated protozoan recently described by Museum scientists, found in the Yellow Sea and South China Sea. It is 50 micrometres long, about half the diameter of a human red blood cell, and is found swimming freely or attached to solid objects. Find out what this intriguing creature looks like and what we know about its evolutionary history.
Turbo kenwilliamsi, is a turban shell large marine snail, is common on rocky shores along the western and south-western coastline of Australia. Find out more about Turbo kenwilliamsi.
First described by Museum staff in 2009, Urera fenestrata is a species new to science. It is part of the nettle family and is known only from mountain ranges in Costa Rica and Panama. Find out more about this species.
Discovered in 2009, Vigtorniella ardabilia is a species of annelid worm so similar in appearance to a related species that they are only distinguishable by DNA sequences. Find out more about Vigtorniella ardabilia.
Learn about the iridescent Captain's wood snake, Xylophis captaini, recently discovered in India by Museum scientists and their Indian collaborators.
Canthidium (Eucanthidium) darwini was first collected and described during a Museum-led exploration of the Amistad Binational Park in Panama in 2008 as part of the Darwin Initiative. Little is known about this small and beautiful beetle, but it probably feeds on the dung of small mammals such as mice. Find out what we do know about this diminutive dung beetle.
Coprophanaeus lancifer is one of the largest scarab dung beetles in the western hemisphere, and can grow to the size of your fist. It is commonly found in the Amazon basin where it prefers to eat animal carcasses rather than dung. This remarkable beetle has legs lined with teeth to help it dig burrows for its young. Find out more about this heavy-weight beetle and why its presence indicates of a thriving forest.
Echinolittorina placida is a marine snail belonging to the family of periwinkles. It lives on sheltered rocky shores and jetties in the Gulf of Mexico, where it was first discovered in 2009 by Museum scientists. This snail has spread rapidly northwards during the last 100 years as man-made structures have created new habitats. Read more about this recently identified snail.
Flustra foliacea is a cheilostome bryozoan that is common along the British coastline, particularly after storms. Its colonies have a distinctive smell and grow to up to 20 centimetres long and are often mistaken for a seaweed. They provide a microhabitat for dozens of tiny animals. Find out more about this unusual creature and where you might spot it.
Lecanopteris spinosa is an intriguing fern species that has a mutually beneficial relationship with ants. Whilst the fern’s rhizome provides shelter for the ant colony, the ants provide nutrients for the plant. Read on to discover more about this unusual plant and how it has adapted to accommodate its helpful tenants.
The sweetgum tree, Liquidambar styraciflua, is native to the Americas but is commonly cultivated in the UK. It has striking purple, red and yellow leaves in autumn and as its name suggests, it exudes a resin that can be used in many ways including as an adhesive, and in soaps and medicines. Find out more about this beautiful tree.
Parides agavus is a large and beautiful butterfly that lives in undisturbed forest areas in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. The caterpillars feed on plants containing aristolochic acids - these are toxic to many of its potential predators. Adult Parides agavus usually only live for about 2 weeks. Discover more about the life of this striking butterfly.
Rigidipenna inexpectata is a rare bird found only on a few of the Solomon Islands. It is a nocturnal species and remains hidden in forested regions, but makes characteristic whistling sounds to communicate. Read on to discover more about this typical frogmouth and the threats it faces from deforestation.
Solanum phoxocarpum is a shrub or tree that grows at high altitudes in Kenyan and Tanzanian mountains. It can grow up to 6 metres tall, and has unusual long pointy fruits and mauve flowers. The plant's roots are used locally for medicinal purposes. Read on to find out more about this spiny plant and its mountain habitat.
Symsagittifera roscoffensis is a small, free-living marine worm that relies on symbiotic algae for nutrition. The photosynthetic algae give the worm its green colour and its common name, the mint-sauce worm. Read on to find out more about this simple acoel worm, its ability to regenerate, and the evolutionary questions it may help to answer.