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Too Many for Noah’s Ark!

New census of living creatures points to 8.7 million species

The face of a newly discovered frogfish, Histiophryne psychedelica

If they were heading two by two into his legendary ark, Noah would have needed space for more than 17 million animals. That’s the latest estimate from what’s being hailed as the most comprehensive, authoritative census of living creatures on Earth.

Note that it’s an estimate, not an actual count, because fewer than 2 million of these have ever actually been seen.

That means 86 percent of all land animals and 91 percent of creatures in the ocean have yet to be found.

So how did the scientists reach their estimate? It’s a complicated process that involves extrapolating from between known species and the broader groupings to which we know they belong. But the scientists are confident that it give an accurate estimate.

“The approach accurately predicted the number of species in several well-studied groups such as mammals, fishes and birds, providing confidence in the method,” explained researcher Sina Adl of Canada’s Dalhousie University.

Many of undiscovered animals will likely be small animals tucked away in rainforests or in the deep ocean. But one recent discovery is the black-capped woodnymph of Colombia, first catalogued in 2009.

“We are really fairly ignorant of the complexity and colorfulness of this amazing planet,” said the study’s co-author, Boris Worm, a biology professor at Dalhousie. “We need to expose more people to those wonders. It really makes you feel differently about this place we inhabit.”

For more information, see:

The BBC: Species count put at 8.7 million.

Huffington Post: Millions of Undiscovered Species

PloS Biology on Why All This Matters. (Very simply because, at the current rate of mass extinction, millions of these entirely undiscovered species will be extinct long before we ever know they existed.)