Thousands of new species were discovered this year — including these cool little guys.

Though many animals and plants are at risk of going extinct, that doesn't mean we aren't finding new ones. In fact, new species are being discovered all the time. In 2015, over 100 new plant and animal species were discovered by the California Academy of Sciences researchers alone.

And though some of these might sound more like Dungeons and Dragons monsters, they are most definitely real creatures.



GIF via Nerdist.

Researchers discovered new species of Dracula ants.

These tiny ants really do earn their name. They suck hemolymph — the insect equivalent of blood — from their own young. And, like their namesake, you're not likely to see them running around in the sunshine. These tiny ants prefer to live in tunnels and pockets under the forest floor.

+2 to hit, AC 14. Image by the California Academy of Sciences, used with permission.

They were discovered by Dr. Brian Fisher, the California Academy of Sciences' resident ant expert.

These weren't the only vampires discovered this year. Two species of brightly-colored Javanese vampire crabs were scientifically cataloged this year after researchers spotted them in an aquarium store. Locals had known about them and sold them as pets for years before scientists had a chance to investigate.

How about some slugs that look like they're ready for Mardi Gras.

+1 to hit, applies poison. Doto splendidisima. Image by the California Academy of Sciences, used with permission.

Researcher Terry Gosliner's team found nine new species of nudibranchs — a kind of ooo-la-la-looking sea slug. Two were even found during student training exercises, and three of the new species were found in one particular spot in the Philippines.

"It was like an underwater Easter egg hunt. It was one of the most exciting scientific dives of my 50-year career," said Gosliner.

Nudibranchs can come in a startling variety of colors and shapes (including our bulbous friend up at the top) and can be quite poisonous. Some can even steal stinging nematocyst cells from jellyfish; some can steal chloroplasts from algae too. This means they can photosynthesize like a plant!

They found strange and spooky sharks and rays.

AC 16, 1d4 electric attack. This is a common torpedo — a relative of the new species. The new species is much less colorful. Image from Roberto Pillon/FishBase.

Another researcher, David Ebert, spent his year finding rare, unknown sharks. Ebert found ghost sharks, a deep-sea catshark, and an electric torpedo ray.

"Torpedo rays have an amazing set of defenses," said Ebert. "These rays can discharge a powerful electric shock of 45 volts — enough to knock down a human adult."

These weren't the only shark species discovered this year. Researcher Victoria Vásquez discovered the ninja lanternshark. Its body was also stored at the California Academy of Sciences.

The ninja lanternshark is a small, sleek, black shark that lives in the deep ocean. Glow-in-the-dark organs help them camouflage themselves in the darkness.

And 10 little goblin spiders.

+3 to hit, save vs. fear. This related species goblin spider is found in western Europe. Image via Arnaud Henrard, Rudy Jocqué, and Barbara C. Baehr/Wikimedia Commons.

"Small-but-mighty goblin spiders are extremely unusual," said researcher Charles Griswold. "Unlike most spiders that spin webs above the ground and hunt above the leaves, these goblins exist in darkness. They use their tough armor to bulldoze their way through the substrate, parting leaves and soil as easily as a fish moves through water."

Griswold and his team found 10 new species of these incredibly tiny spiders living in Madagascar.

These are only a handful of the thousands of species discovered last year alone.

Original images from Pop Culture Geek/Flickr and Jonathan W. Armbruster/Wikimedia Commons.

It wasn't just the one academy working on this; people around the world discovered new species this year. There was a frog that looks suspiciously like Kermit the Frog and a catfish that bore an uncanny resemblance to Greedo, an alien from "Star Wars" (above).

Some of the discoveries were made by field expeditions, but others relied on tracking down and analyzing DNA samples. One group of researchers from the University of Basel even identified a new species of cicada by listening to its song.


Image from TED-Ed/Tumblr.

These incredible discoveries are a glimpse at a hidden world.

The Age of Discovery might have ended in the 18th century, but for biologists, there's still a lot to find. So far, humanity has discovered and named over a million species of plants, animals, and other forms of life.

But that might be only about a tenth of what's actually out there. There's still a lot more left.


A dumbo octopus — who knows what amazing looking species will be discovered next? Image via oceanexplorergov/YouTube.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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