Photos: Field study stars rock the animal world

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  1. RAP stars celebrated

    Conservation International has been conducting "Rapid Assessment Program" surveys around the world since 1990, and to celebrate the 20th anniversary, the group has put together a "Top 20" list of species found during its RAP expeditions. This is the satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus), which was observed during a 1998 survey in the Mantadia-Zahamena corridor of Madagascar. The species was first described in 1888, and it is not rare in primary forests in Madagascar. WWF listed all Uroplatus species on its top-10 "most wanted" species list in 2004 because they were "being captured and sold at alarming rates." (Piotr Naskrecki) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An alien on Earth

    This "E.T. salamander" (Bolitoglossa sp. nov.) was discovered during a RAP expedition to Ecuador in 2009. This genus of salamanders has fully webbed feet, which help them climb high into the canopy of tropical forests. They also have no lungs and breathe instead through their skin. This new species was found in the wet forests of the tepuis in southern Ecuador. (Jessica Deichmann) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Pinocchio frog

    This frog (Litoria sp. nov.) was discovered during a RAP expedition to the Foja Mountains of Indonesia's Papua province in 2008. The frog has a long, Pinocchio-like protuberance on its nose that points upward when the male is calling but deflates and points downward when he is less active. Its discovery was a happy accident: Herpetologist Paul Oliver spotted it sitting on a bag of rice in the campsite. (Tim Laman) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. What big eyes!

    This 6-inch-long tree frog (Nyctimystes sp.) with enormous eyes was found next to a clear-running mountain river during a RAP expedition to Papua New Guinea’s highland wilderness in 2008. It belongs to a group of frogs with an unusual veinlike pattern on the eyelid. Its tadpoles have enormous suckerlike mouths that allow them to graze on exposed rocks in torrential stream environments. (Stephen Richards / Conservation Int'l) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Legacy of the Inca

    The chinchilla tree rat (Cuscomys ashaninka) was discovered in 1997 during RAP expeditions that targeted Peru's Vilcabamba mountain range, very close to the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. It is pale gray in color, possesses a stocky build, has large claws, and is characterized by a white stripe along its head. It is related to the chinchilla rats which are known to have been buried alongside the Inca people in their tombs. (Louise Emmons) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Tube-nosed fruit bat

    This tube-nosed fruit bat (Nyctimene sp.) from Papua New Guinea's Muller Range does not yet have a name but has been found in other parts of New Guinea. It is probably restricted to hill forests on the island. The bat was observed by RAP researchers in 2009. (Piotr Naskrecki) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Smoky honeyeater

    A new species of smoky honeyeater (Melipotes carolae) was found in 2005 during a RAP expedition to the Foja Mountains of Indonesia's Papua province on the island of New Guinea. (Bruce Beeler) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. African traveler

    The Gola malimbe (Malimbus ballmanni) was observed in mixed-species flocks in southeast Guinea's Diecke Forest during a RAP survey in 2003. Previously it was known only from eastern Sierra Leone, Liberia and western Ivory Coast. (David Monticelli) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. This shark was made for 'walking'

    The walking shark (Hemiscyllium galei) was discovered during a RAP expedition to Indonesia's Cenderawasih Bay in 2006. Despite its name, this shark can swim. However, it prefers to walk along the shallow reef flats on its fins, preying on shrimp, crabs, snails and small fish. (Gerald Allen) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. What's in a name?

    This new species of flasher wrasse (Paracheilinus nursalim) was discovered during a 2006 RAP expedition to west Papua, Indonesia. The males go through an amazing courtship ritual in which "electric" colors are flashed periodically to attract nearby females. The naming rights for this species were auctioned off to the family of Cherie Nursalim, the wife of Conservation International board member Enki Tan. The donation went to the Bird’s Head Seascape, a global priority for marine conservation. (Gerald Allen) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Suckermouth catfish

    The suckermouth catfish was discovered during a 2005 RAP survey in Suriname. RAP ichthyologists named the new species Pseudancistrus kwinti, after the indigenous Kwinti people who live along the lower reaches of the Coppename River. The fish's suckermouth allows it to adhere to objects in its habitat, even in fast-flowing waters. (Phil Willink) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Crafty katydid

    This Peacock katydid (Pterochroza ocellata) was observed during a 2006 RAP expedition to Guyana's Acarai Mountains. It is a large rainforest insect that employs two effective strategies to protect itself from predators: At a casual glance it looks like a dead, partially damaged leaf, but if threatened it suddenly reveals a pair of bright eye spots and starts jumping excitedly, which gives the impression of a giant head of a bird suddenly pecking at the attacker. (Piotr Naskrecki) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. That's a RAP

    The RAP katydid (Brachyamytta rapidoaestima) was discovered during a 2002 RAP survey in Ghana and Guinea. This newly discovered species is a sit-and-wait predator, hiding on the underside of leaves, and attacking small insects that make the mistake of landing on the leaf. It was named after the RAP program because it lives in the most threatened habitats of West Africa that the RAP program is trying to save. (Piotr Naskrecki) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Dragonfly's debut

    This new dragonfly species (Platycypha eliseva) was discovered during a 2004 RAP survey in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Males of this species have a unique combination of colors that differentiate it from other species; specifically, the yellow-tipped abdomen and the red and white tibiae. (Klaas-Douwe B. Dijkstra) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Cleaning up after bats

    This species of blattodean insect (Simandoa conserfariam) is known from a single cave in Guinea's Simandoa Range, where they were discovered in 2002. They feed on guano of giant fruit bats that inhabit the cave, and help recycle and re-release the nutrients trapped there. The species is named after Conservation International. (Piotr Naskrecki) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. They'll hook you in

    Scientists, as well as mammal and bird predators, think twice before messing with this fish-hook ant in the forests of Cambodia. The curved spines can easily slice through skin, and they tend to hold on for a while. The ants were observed during a RAP expedition to Cambodia's Virachey National Park in 2007. (Piotr Naskrecki) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Tiny ant with a giant bite

    The tigress ant (Strumigenys tigris) may not be as big as a tiger, but it's just as ferocious and dangerous to small invertebrates in the leaf litter of a rainforest. This ant measures about a tenth of an inch long, and walks around with its mandibles held wide open so that it can capture small invertebrates with a lightning fast snap. It was observed during a 2009 RAP expedition to Papua New Guinea's Muller Range. (Piotr Naskrecki) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Scorpion of a different color

    The 8-inch-long body of the Emperor scorpion (Pandinus imperator) makes it one of the largest scorpions in the world. A species from India is reputedly just slightly longer. This particular specimen was observed during a 2006 RAP survey in Ghana. Despite their enormous size, the scorpions feed primarily on termites and other small invertebrates, and its venom is not particularly harmful to humans. The venom of this species contains compounds that are being tested as potential drugs to control arrhythmia, a heart disease. (Piotr Naskrecki) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. World's heaviest spider

    The Goliath bird-eating spider (Theraphosa blondi) is the most massive spider in the world, weighing in at 6 ounces (170 grams). This specimen was observed by a RAP scientific team in Guyana in 2006. These spiders live in burrows on the floor of lowland rainforests. Despite their name, they feed primarily on invertebrates, but they have been observed eating small mammals, lizards and even venomous snakes. (Piotr Naskrecki) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Old ... and new

    The Atewa dinospider (Ricinoides atewa) was discovered during a 2006 RAP expedition to Ghana’s Atewa Range Forest Reserve. This new species belongs to a lineage of animals that have remained virtually unchanged since the Carboniferous, over 300 million years ago. Currently, they are found only in Central and South America, and West Africa. () Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 4/13/2011 8:02:15 PM ET 2011-04-14T00:02:15

To mark 20 years of field study, Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program has just named the Top 20 stars of the program's history. According to Conservation International, these species are "some of the most biologically surprising, unique, or threatened discoveries" from their teams’ surveys.

The director of the group's RAP program is Leeanne Alonso, who helped to select the top 20.

“It’s been an amazing adventure,” Alonso was quoted as saying in a press release. “Despite the pressures we put on nature, it continues to mystify, inspire and teach us with a wealth of hidden treasures and ecosystem services that people rely on, and that we’re still only beginning to understand.”

Alonso, who has coordinated and led surveys for the past 13 years, has also just edited a new book, “Still Counting...” It revisits RAP expeditions that occurred during the past two decades. During that time, the researchers completed 80 surveys in 27 countries. Most turned up incredible, and often bizarre, species that we've frequently informed you about at Discovery. Many are endangered and in places that are threatened by pollution, habitat loss and other human-related problems.

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Conservation International President Russ Mittermeier, who went on many of the surveys, says that in doing the RAP work, “we have truly laid the groundwork for the future and created constituencies that are already carrying the cause of conservation forward.”

"In spite of all that we have learned, there is still much to do," he added. "The pressures on the countries richest in biodiversity have not diminished, and many regions still remain unexplored. Knowledge has already helped to conserve some of the world’s highest priority sites and regions, and knowledge will continue to be our strongest tool in ensuring the future of life on our planet.”

Did you know, for example, that there are about 1.9 million documented species of animals, but it's estimated that up to 30 million species of organisms are yet to be discovered and scientifically described? Many disappear before scientists ever have the chance to discover and study them. This unfortunate process is known as Centinelan extinction.

The good news is that the 20 RAP species now have an improved chance of survival, given CI's involvement.

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