How To Discover A New Species


How to discover a new species? I’ve written several posts about new species. This made me wonder how difficult it would be to find a new species!

Where would we even begin? I decided to investigate exactly how to discover a new species.

Scientists continue to astound, finding new species with regularity.

Cataloguing a new aquatic species is a bit less surprising: like a cool octopus that lives in the ocean depths. Less surprising because of our physical limitations. (Breathing underwater is a big limitation that comes to mind.)

Humans don’t spend a lot of time hanging out in the ocean depths! 

Humans have breathing limitations_make sense of science
All these humans are happily breathing!

That said, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds primarily breathe air. Keen-eyed enthusiasts armed with binoculars have opportunities to locate new creatures. A map recently compiled by Yale University hypothesizes exactly what I was wondering.  It literally maps where we ought to go to discover a new species!

How to Discover A New Species
courtesy Yale University most likely places to discover a new species

I studied the world map and found the four most likely places we could go to discover a new species! While I was researching, I posted a twitter poll to see which of the four species people liked best. The results surprised me a bit!

Which is your favorite species? Twitter poll
Which species would you vote for?

Why do people go to all this trouble?

The hunt, the mystery, the adventure of new places, and meeting new people must factor in.

Here’s another important factor. The discovery of any new species means efforts can immediately begin to protect them.  

Not to mention that we’d be able to name our new species! 


Naming a New Species_Eeyore
What would you name this new species?

The why is clear cut. Not the how we’d go about discovering a new species.

To me, part of the how to discover a new species partially involves being in the right place at the right time. With the map, we can get to the place with the best odds.


Let’s explore this idea!


As I was researching this post, as I expected, reptiles were in dead last in my poll. 


Reptiles had a late surge and tied with amphibians! 

Really though, who doesn’t like turtles? While Komodo dragons aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy, and my mom has undiagnosed ophidiophobia, reptiles deserve our respect.

The earliest known reptile is Hylonomus lyelli.
Lyelli Model wikimedia
It is also the first animal known to have fully adapted to life on land.
Hylonomus lived about 315 million years ago.
Canadian Museum of Nature has more info here
Previous slide
Next slide

Which lizard would you rather find?

Photo on right used with permission from Louie. Far right used with permission from

Where to discover a new species-Louie and Ozzie
Louie is always intrigued with Ozzie, new species or not!
Find a new species Susan Berk Koch science blog
Finding this lizard would be a lot cooler!


Our best chance to find a new species of reptile is in Malaysia!

Discover A New Species of Reptile in Malaysia
Inset is the best location to find a new species of reptile!
You can discover a new species_ reptile in Malaysia
Close up of the original map

Malaysia is on my bucket list! Whether or not reptiles are your favorite species, I’m all in for this trip. Unfortunately, how to discover a new species doesn’t mean strolling through Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.

Make Sense of Science is not shopping in Singapore
We probably can't find a new species here either.

Since reptiles are cold blooded, it makes sense that we go at a warm time. Malaysia’s warmest month is April! Bring your rain gear, hiking shoes, and camera. We could start in Khao Nam Khang National Park and circle out, searching the surrounding areas.



For me, starting in Chicago, it makes more sense to fly to Hat Yai, Thailand.
(I don't know where you're coming from but we'll meet in Hat Yai!)
I’ll only have three stops.
My first stop is in Istanbul! (also on my bucket list)
On to Abu Dhabi. Another flight and a quick layover in Bangkok, and finally to Hat Yai, Thailand.
Previous slide
Next slide

Yes, Khao Nam Khang is a national park, but it’s not recommended that tourists travel there alone. A guide may be in order, perhaps one who is an experienced camper! 

Where to find a new species_may need a guide
I don't trust these guys. One of them is sleeping on the job.
Make Sense of Science _Where to Discover a New Species
Beautiful but imposing

Let’s go with this guide instead! You can find him here! 

That white tissue is Kurt’s DIY Diffuser. He says , “Direct, undiffused light is harsh and unpleasant, but to make things worse, most insects are shiny and reflective. With poorly diffused light, you’ll get blown highlights.”

No, we’re not hunting for insects but no one wants bad results. So grab some tissues because we’ll need a lot of photos! And take careful notes about where we took these photos.

Discovering a new species in Malaysia

There is such biodiversity in Malaysia that we can post our photos to this facebook group for help with ID. If they can’t figure it out, maybe we’ve got  a new species!


I understand if reptiles aren’t for you. How about birds? They fill our world with song and color. Birds came in second place in my twitter poll.  (I see now that I picked out a lot of blue birds. More on the color blue in nature here!)

Even though birds didn’t win the popularity contest, the statistics say that we’ve got the highest probability to find a new bird species! 

About five new bird species are discovered every calendar year!

We’ve got almost triple the chance of finding a new bird species than a new reptile species.


Maybe because they're more mobile? They can escape natural and man made disasters, and predators.

The Arctic tern is the bird with the farthest migration.
These lovely white seabirds fly from the Arctic all the way to the southern hemisphere.
They fly ~24,000 miles (40,000 km) each year.
That’s a distance about equal to the circumference of the Earth!
Previous slide
Next slide


We should go to the area with the highest probability of success. That’s in Colombia!

How to discover a new species__ Birds in Columbia
Inset is our best geographic location to find a new species of bird
How to discover a new species __birds
Close up of the map. (forgive my inaccuracies)
Andes Mountains-Colombia


I figure we’ll meet in the town of Pasto.
You can see that it's on the southern edge of our target location.
Starting from Chicago again, it’s going to take me a mere 22 hours to arrive.
This is my shortest trip of the four!
I’ll need to connect in Houston, TX. From there I’ll go to Bogota, then to Pasto.
Previous slide
Next slide
Our target area includes part of the Andes!
For the record, the Andes is the world’s longest mountain range.
The highest peak is the south face of Aconcagua, at 22,841 feet.
Only the Himalayas are higher!
I hope you have good hiking shoes!
Previous slide
Next slide


What happens next? How do we know that the bird we’ve spotted is a new species?

To confirm that our bird is a new species, we'll need to capture the bird in question
I know, not what I wanted to hear, either.
Maybe not the best method for capture!
We need to take DNA samples, measurements of beak length, tail markings, and the like.
Many photographs are necessary.
That makes sense. You read my blog so you know I love photos.
The potential new species are studied for months, preferably on breeding grounds, so researchers can hear the birds sing.
Recordings are taken, shared, and studied.
Most birds breed in the spring and summer, so that’s when we’ll go, too!
This sounds time consuming!
We may need to quit our day jobs!
Previous slide
Next slide


If altitudes cause you discomfort or angst, we can return to sea level. How about if we find a new species of amphibian?

Amphibians didn’t rank too highly on my poll, either. But amphibians are intriguing.

Plus, they eat mosquitoes! Who doesn’t like that? (okay, maybe the mosquitoes don’t like this but too bad for them.) 

Mosquito-borne illness affect 700 million people annually. 

Find a new species_amphibians are fun
I bet this budding herpetologist voted for amphibians!

A herpetologist is a zoologist who studies reptiles and amphibians.

Many herpetologists focus on conservation!

More about herpetologists here


Let’s go to the country with the highest probability of success! That’s Sri Lanka.

You can discover a new species__ Make sense of science
Area to target for new species in Sri Lanka
You can discover a new species of amphibian in Sri Lanka
Close-up of Yale map


Make Sense of Science_ _Sri Lanka Beauty_of_Sigiriya_by_Binuka
The Sigiriya Fortress! I'd love to see this...
Let’s meet in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.
It’s the closest city to the Colombo airport & in our geographic destination.
I’ll leave Chicago and fly direct to Dubai!
13 hours of luxury!
Emirates flies there out of Chicago.
Flying on Emirates is also on my bucket list!
After a potentially bleak 7-hour layover, I’ll get to the Bandaranaike airport only four hours later.
A 21-hour trip.
We'll hire a car and driver. Three hours of pretty scenery and we'll be at our destination!
Previous slide
Next slide
Sri Lanka is also on my bucket list!
Sri Lanka has a reputation for friendly, helpful people.
It’s 100 miles north of the equator, so we can pack light!
Maybe we should wear pants, though!
I think Sri Lanka is missed because of the more popular Maldives and India.
Previous slide
Next slide


 Maybe our map extrapolated that we’d have the best odds of finding an amphibian in Sri Lanka, because the small island has highest amphibian endemism in Asia. (endemism = species being native to a single defined geographic location.)

Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka
Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka photo By Bourgeois
Sri Lanka is recognized as an amphibian hotspot, with 116 species, 90% of them found nowhere else on Earth
A recent IUCN Red List assessment of the amphibians of Sri Lanka states that 72 of them are threatened with extinction
Loss of wet-zone cloud forests is biggest threat to the island’s amphibians
Sri Lanka has recorded the highest number of amphibian extinctions in the world
In 2013, herpetologist Mendis Wickramasinghein re discovered the Kandyan dwarf toad
The Kandyan dwarf toad was thought to be extinct for nearly 133 years.
World's Rarest Toad
Previous slide
Next slide


Recently discovered! Plus several thought to be extinct. All in Sri Lanka!

Seems to me that we have a great chance of finding an amphibian! It’s key to keeping environments safe.

More about those 8 toads here


Last but not least, our fourth species and my twitter poll’s winner. Mammals!

Find your favorite species
Best friends

Humans tend to like mammals. We are mammals, after all.

Even predators have expressive faces and soft fuzzy bodies. Mammal babies scream out for us to protect them.


New species need protection
courtesy cute emergency


Remember from that map we’ve got a 1.22% probability of finding a new species of mammal. That is most likely to occur in Madagascar.

Where to Discover A New Species Mammals
Looks like a rugged area
Approximate geographic area w best chance to find a new species of mammal

I think we’ll need a professional guide here, too. That area above doesn’t have many cities, for one thing! 

First we have to get there.

Where to find a new species_maybe you need a guide _Venice lost
This guy is good with a map!


MADAGASCAR Best country to find a new species of mammal
Lovely Madagascar sunset wikimedia commons
With the last three adventures, I should have enough miles for a free flight!
I'll meet you in Maroantsetra, Madagascar
It’s on the southern edge of our geographic target, and on the coast.
First stop is in Rome.
I hope they have gelato at the airport because my layover is only 3 hours.
Next transfer is Dubai.
Then to Nairobi, and land in Antananarivo, Madagascar!
A mere 28 hours.
Local flights from Antananarivo to Maroantsetra run on specific days, so we'll have time for sightseeing.
I don't think we should hire THIS pilot...
Previous slide
Next slide

It’s no wonder that researchers apply for field grants! This is an expensive endeavor. We are helping local economies though. And it’s clear that my hiking shoes were an excellent investment.

Hiking shoes are a must for adventures
They're waterproof, too!

Madagascar has amazing biodiversity. A new predator species of mongoose was discovered there recently. He isn’t quite as cute as a puppy but deserves our protection! This mongoose instantly made the top 100 most threatened species list.

With a little luck, we’ll discover another needy mammal.

And we’ll make our discovery on another cool island. Did you notice that two of the four best spots to find new species are islands?


Islands are often considered biodiversity hotspots due to the variety of species that have evolved to thrive on these remote pieces of land
The features of island living have led to a high number of endemic species
Many island species are found nowhere else in the world.
Island species are especially vulnerable to extinction because they have a small geographic range.
Plus, on islands animals can’t escape from disasters, be them natural or man made.
Previous slide
Next slide

All the mammals below are endangered, all on Madagascar. (Except for Louie, he’s feeling left out because he couldn’t go on any of these expeditions! So he insisted that I include him in the slide shows.)


While we’re all saving for these excursions, let’s consider nearby habitats! This is a great STEM activity. Take your kids, grandkids, or significant others to the park, or into your backyard, and practice searching. People have discovered new species this way!

My milkweed alone was chock full of species. (read more about our adventure raising monarchs here!) 

Louie's Toad Buddy
Louie found this guy hanging out in our backyard.


Malaysia, Colombia, Sri Lanka, or Madagascar! If you could only choose one destination to find a new species, which one would you choose? And why?

Whichever the destination, congratulations! You’re helping to preserve biodiversity!


Subscribe, so you don't miss any more posts. Let's make sense of science together.


Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Unwanted Life
April 19, 2021 1:30 pm

It’s surprising how many new species still get discovered, you’d think we’d have catalogued them all by now, but nope. One of the UK wildlife presenters said you’re just as likely to find a new species in your back garden as you are in a remote location. Given the amount of articles I’ve seen since then of people doing just that, I guess their comments were based in truth

Retirestyle Travel
Retirestyle Travel
April 19, 2021 1:34 pm

We would go to Madagascar. Great idea to discover a new species so you can be remembered forever.

Melissa Kacar
Melissa Kacar
Reply to  Retirestyle Travel
April 20, 2021 10:06 am

This is so interesting and entertaining to read! I would love to travel to find a new bird species! Thank you for sharing this! 🙂

April 19, 2021 4:09 pm

I’d pick Sri Lanka, but I would have voted for birds. I love your photos especially the ones of Louie.

Jaya Avendel
April 19, 2021 4:28 pm

Sri Lanka looks like a beautiful land, but I would love to visit Madagascar. The biodiversity there is amazing!

Mark Crone
April 19, 2021 4:36 pm

Wow! Malaysia, Colombia, Sri Lanka, or Madagascar? I think I’d choose Madagascar. The idea of finding a new mammal sounds amazing and quite a challenge. You’ve got me thinking…I’d love to try to do that. Thanks for the inspiration!

April 19, 2021 4:43 pm

How about looking in our own backyard? Mike

April 19, 2021 6:16 pm

Oh that would be so cool to discover a new animal species! Thanks so much for sharing this fun and interesting article.

April 19, 2021 9:56 pm

Your post literally inspires so many kids to keep exploring and learning science. It is never too late to discover a new species like they read in books. I’d love to visit the islands to find the endangered species or just interact with the funny-looking ones. Thank you so much.

Lisa's Notebook
April 20, 2021 5:14 am

I love how scientifically you’ve laid out the best way to discover a new species! Personally I’d go for mammals in Madagascar as I’m afraid reptiles, amphibians and birds don’t really do it for me 🙂

April 20, 2021 5:52 am

Wow so interesting! All these destinations sound incredible. I learned so much from this!

April 20, 2021 6:33 am

This was so interesting! I honestly don’t get either why people dislike reptilians, I mean look at Ozzie, how can you say no? it would amazing to discover a new species! I would travel to all the destinations, but I think I would try first Malaysia and Sri Lanka! Thanks for sharing x

Reply to  Susan Berk Koch
April 21, 2021 10:29 am

Wow 18, well a very happy belated birthday to him!

Amie Cadwallader
April 20, 2021 7:30 am

Oooh there are so many amazng places here! I’d definiely love to go to Sri Lanka!

Love, Amie ❤
The Curvaceous Vegan

April 20, 2021 10:30 am

All of these destinations look so beautiful. I totally would like to visit one day.

April 20, 2021 10:33 am

What a fun post! Discovering a new bird would be the ultimate win, I’d love it haha! Thanks for sharing.

Anika |

Eva Apelqvist
Eva Apelqvist
April 20, 2021 11:14 am

Lovely, fun, imaginative and educational, as always. Hands down best science blog around. Can’t wait for your next one. Thank you.

April 20, 2021 3:48 pm

Wow. This was a very interesting post to read, you might be the first blog I’ve come across with this kind of stuff. I think I’d definitely prefer mammals in Madagascar though as I have a phobia of frogs so would rather not discover any new species in that family!
It really does fascinate me though that there are still unknown species out there 🙂

April 20, 2021 9:48 pm

What a fun trip around the world you’ve already provided via your fabulous photos. And I could sit by my fireplace and not deal with airport parking or customs. 😉 Another great post – thanks for all the information!

Kelly Diane
April 21, 2021 12:56 am

This is such an interesting post. I remember being told one that scientists believed there were more animals yet to be discovered that what we have already found.

Jenny in Neverland
April 21, 2021 3:13 am

This was such a fun and interesting post. The concept of findng new species NOW still baffles me for some reason like surly we’d have found them all in the time humans have been on this planet? But like you said, we don’t often spend a lot of time on the sea bed so I do wonder what else might be down there!

Della Driscoll
April 21, 2021 6:40 am

So many amazing places here! Sri Lanka and Malaysia are at the top of my bucket list – and it’s amazing what you’re able to find there x

Amy Laundrie
April 21, 2021 1:32 pm

I loved our virtual tour, Sue. I listened to the podcast and you did an impressive job pronouncing some of the hard words. Great photos, too. Like you, I’m drawn to blue birds and creatures. They really stand out.

April 21, 2021 1:58 pm

Love the idea of discovering new species in your back yard! What a fun and informational post.

April 21, 2021 2:08 pm

Our world is full of amazing surprises. I’ve always been fascinated by the the deepest oceans and the lifeforms that could be there beyond where we can go. As for the places you’ve mentioned, Madagascar is close to the top of my must-visit destinations. Would love to go there once the pandemic bids adieu. Very informative and interesting read.

Under Flowery Sky
April 21, 2021 2:24 pm

Very interesting post and very cute bird. Not something I would
think that happens often..

Luke Slater
Luke Slater
April 21, 2021 4:07 pm

This was such a fantastic and post to read, I’ve never gone to any of these places before, but I cast my vote to Madagascar 😁

I'm All Booked Up YA
I'm All Booked Up YA
April 22, 2021 8:10 am

Madagascar has our vote!

May 3, 2021 6:18 am

Sri Lanka’s definitely on my list to visit when we finally can!

Jenny Pink
May 3, 2021 6:19 am

Voting for Madagascar!

Isa A
Isa A
June 1, 2021 11:04 am

I read your posts for two reasons. information and humor. You top on both in written language which I havent seen in others. Now back to content. I don’t go with the poll results because of sample size and demographics limitation. Maybe 500 voted? All beauty lifestyle bloggers? Mostly female? The best thing you did by justifying your research was saying that your original research said something else!!! That was cherry on top! This way no one will ever stop reading your content. Now my take, I think more amphibians and aquatic life potentially can be discovered. 100 times for amphibian, 900 times sure for aquatic. I would also add Amazon to it! It is still not completely discovered to date. Also, Russia!!! It has wildlife bigger than a few countries and is too wild. I skimmed to read this one especially!! My kinda topic! xx
Isa A. Blogger

Susan Berk Koch author

My New Book!

Be the best-informed reader!

Make Sense of Science is my email newsletter where I share information about future science, new tech developments, as well as tools and resources for STEM at home. It arrives every two weeks and you’ll only hear from me. (And Louie)

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x


Be the smartest person on your block!

Enter your email & I’ll share news about future science, STEM activities, and the best books.

And more Louie!

Louie says please subscribe to our science blog

Be the Best Informed!

I’ll make sense of science, share news about new tech, science advancements, and more. You’ll only hear from me and only twice a month. 

Louie loves STEM at home activities

Be the smartest person!

I’ll share news about future science, new species, show you how to do science at home with your kids, find the best books and more. You’ll only hear from me and only twice a month, tops.

Louie will be so happy!

Don’t miss out on More Cool Science! Subscribe for twice monthly articles. Thanks so much.