How do you know if you’ve found a genuine new species?
Zoologist Mark Siddall explains.Annalee Newitz
— You're out in the wilderness — or maybe just your front yard — and you see a really weird animal. It's like a cross between a bat and a frog. Have you discovered a new species? If so, how would you prove it?We asked American Museum of Natural History zoologist Mark Siddall for some advice. So before you cry cryptid, you'll want to know what a real scientist would do in the face of the unknown.
Scientists who find new species often have a soft spot for cryptids, or mystery animals. Siddall admitted that two years ago during a meeting of parasitologists he went on a hunt for a mythical giant leech called Tlanusi, said to live in the Hiwassee River near Tennessee. "It had been described in Cherokee myth," Sidall said. "And I thought, 'Let's go look for this leech!' I used my usual method of collecting, and climbed right into the river." He paused dramatically. "What happened was that I didn't find it. But maybe that for the best, because if you lay eyes on it you turn to dust."