Image for Decade of DiscoveryNot currently available on BBC iPlayer

Duration: 1 hour

A rare pygmy sloth that looks like a teddy bear and can swim, an insect as long as your arm and a fish from the deep with a face like a headlight. Just some of the extraordinary and weird new species chosen by presenter Chris Packham as his top ten discoveries of the last decade from around the world.

Also chosen are a giant orchid worth thousands, a walking shark and a small mammal related to an elephant with a nose to match, and two geckos which are evolving before our eyes. Equally extraordinary are the personal stories of how the new species were found, as told by the 21st century scientists and explorers who discovered them - the Indiana Joneses of the natural world. All these species are new to us and new to science, and proof that the Earth can still surprise us.

Last on

Thu 17 Mar 2011 23:20 BBC Two Northern Ireland only

Music Played

13 items
  • Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus)

    Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus)

    Found only on the tiny island of Isla Escudo des Veraguas, Panama, the pygmy three-toed sloth was described as a new species in 2001. It's being studied by Bryson Voirin, from the Max Planck Institute.

    This sloth shows how quickly the process of evolution can take place. Its ancestors made their way to the island 9,000 years ago and became isolated from their mainland cousins. In that time this miniature version evolved to become perfectly adapted to its island home – swimming between patches of mangrove and eating only mangrove leaves.

    Despite it easygoing and laidback nature this sloth is in trouble. It is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet, with just 100-200 individuals, and is classed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List.

    Watch this rare pygmy sloth swimming
  • Langkawi Bent-toed Gecko, (Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus)

    Langkawi Bent-toed Gecko, (Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus)

    Possibly a double discovery, this extraordinary gecko was first discovered in 2008 by Dr Lee Grismer from La Sierra University, California in the forests of an island off north-western Malaysia. It has also recently been found in a limestone cave, probably to escape its main predator, the pit viper. To live and hunt in a cave the gecko has had to make some drastic changes to its body shape: a flatter head, longer limbs and slighter build.

    If Lee's theory is correct then we are witnessing speciation in action, the moment when one animal becomes two.

    Wildlife Finder: watch geckos in action
  • Daraina Fork-marked lemur, Phaner sp.

    Daraina Fork-marked lemur, Phaner sp.

    This new lemur was discovered in October 2010 during filming for Decade of Discovery in dry forest near Daraina, northern Madagascar. It was caught using a tranquiliser dart so lemur biologist and head of Conservation International, Russ Mittermeier, plus a team of scientists could take measurements and blood samples. DNA analysis by Ed Louis from Omaha Zoo should confirm this as a new species in the genus Phaner – the fork-marked lemurs, named after the markings on their head.

    There are four known species of Phaner lemur, all are nocturnal and can be tracked down by their distinctive calls. About the size of a grey squirrel, they eat tree sap and nectar and so have large hands and feet for gripping onto trunks. The male that was discovered has a distinctive structure under the tongue not seen in other Phaner species. If it proves to be a new species, Russ has suggested naming it after the Malagasy word for 'challenge'.

    Find out about the new lemur discovery
  • Pitcher Plant, (Nepenthes palawanensis)

    Pitcher Plant, (Nepenthes palawanensis)

    This giant pitcher plant was discovered in February 2010 by botanist Stewart Macpherson who has made it his mission to find and photograph every species of pitcher plant in the world. He found it at the very top of Sultan's Peak on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.

    Pitcher plants are named after their highly-specialised leaves that form hollow, water-filled 'pitchers'. Insects such as flies are attracted by nectar but the slippery sides of the pitcher mean that when prey falls into it they can't climb out. The prey drowns and is digested by bacteria or enzymes. By absorbing animal nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, pitcher plants can thrive in very poor soil.

    Nepenthes palawanensis produces amongst the largest pitchers of all known species, over 35cm long, filled with about 2 litres of fluid. The rim has inward pointing spines to prevent prey from escaping. Occasionally pitcher plants catch animals as large as frogs, mice and even rats.

    Wikipedia: Nepenthes palawanensis
  • Kipunji, (Rungwecebus kipunji)

    Kipunji, (Rungwecebus kipunji)

    In 2003 Tim Davenport, a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist, was working in the Mount Rungwe region of Tanzania. Tim interviewed local people about the animals they hunted and knew in the forest and a few mentioned a 'kipunji', a large monkey which sounded unlike anything else.

    At first, Tim and his colleagues didn't know if this was a real animal or a spirit animal that local people revere but they spent many months looking for it. When Tim finally saw it, he knew straight away that it was a new species. Later DNA analysis showed that it was even more unusual, a completely new genus, the first new genus of monkey since the 1920s.

    However, there are less than 1500 kipunji left in the wild, making it the rarest primate in Africa.

    Wildlife Finder: Watch videos of kipunjis
  • Giant Slipper Orchid, (Phragmipedium kovachii)

    Giant Slipper Orchid, (Phragmipedium kovachii)

    This huge orchid may be the horticultural discovery of the century. It was found in 2001 for sale by the roadside in the Peruvian Highlands by orchid hunter and dealer, Michael Kovach who then illegally imported it back to the US. Lady slipper orchids are covered by the International Convention for the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and cannot be exported from the wild, so this was a wildlife crime as serious as smuggling ivory.

    Kovach was duly prosecuted and fined, but despite this, the orchid still bears his name, Phragmipedium kovachii. A few legal specimens are now in the hands of a select group of orchid breeders. With huge flowers up to 20cm across and a new shade of vibrant purple it presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for breeding amazing new hybrids.

    Wildlife Finder: discover the amazing world of orchids
  • Walking Shark (Hemiscyllium galei)

    Walking Shark (Hemiscyllium galei)

    This cute shark is only about a metre long and 'walks' along the shallow reef on its fins, preying on shrimp, crabs, snails, and small fish. It was first seen by Mark Erdmann from Conservation International in 2006 in the shallow reefs of West Papua, Indonesia. This area has a huge biodiversity but two thirds of the world's reefs are in big trouble. Scientists turned the shark into a local celebrity, using it as an iconic species to lead the campaign to protect its reef home.

    Fishbase: more about the 'walking' shark
  • Grey-faced Sengi, (Rhyncocyon udzungwensis)

    Grey-faced Sengi, (Rhyncocyon udzungwensis)

    The grey-faced sengi, or elephant shrew, was discovered in the forests of Udzungwa National Park in Tanzania in 2006. Italian scientist, Francesco Rovero, from the Trento Museum of Natural Sciences, was studying duikers (small antelope), when he stumbled across an animal he'd never seen before.

    The grey-face sengi is much bigger than any other. It's about the size of a rabbit, weighs 700g and has a long, flexible nose which looks like an elephant's trunk. Like other sengis, it eats ants, worms and other small invertebrates, flicking them out of the forest leaf litter with its long tongue. Sengis aren't shrews but are distantly related to elephants, hyraxes and sea cows. They are an ancient group of mammals that have changed little in the past 40 million years.

    See video of a grey-faced sengi
  • Chan’s Megastick, (Phoebaticus chani)

    Chan’s Megastick, (Phoebaticus chani)

    Insects make up 80% of all animals on Earth. This enormous stick insect, found near Gunung Kinabalu Park, Sabah, in Borneo measures 56.7cm and holds the world record for the longest insect on the planet.

    Despite is enormous size virtually nothing is known about it. Scientists believe it lives high up in the rainforest canopy, which has made it hard to find, a secret until now. This specimen was given to the Natural History Museum by Malaysian naturalist Datuk Chan Chew Lun who saw it in an insect collection in Borneo and realized it was very special. In 2008, it was described and named after him.

    BBC Wildlfie Finder: find out more about stick insects
  • Big Red Jellyfish (Tiburonia granrojo)

    Big Red Jellyfish (Tiburonia granrojo)

    The deep ocean is the least explored habitat on Earth. Although it represents 99% of the living space on the planet, we have only examined 5% of it. 'Big Red' is a new species of large jellyfish up to 1m wide that lives at depths of 650-1500 metres in the Pacific Ocean off California. It was found in 2003 by MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute) scientists who use video cameras on remotely operated deep-diving vehicles to search for new marine creatures.

    Unlike most jellies, big red has no tentacles. Instead, it uses its four to seven fleshy arms to capture food. T. granrojo is not just a new species and genus - it is so different from other jellies that it has had to be assigned to a new subfamily (Tiburoniinae).

    Watch video of the deep sea jellyfish


Chris Packham
Lucinda Axelsson
Executive Producer
Fiona Pitcher


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss