A roly-poly monochromatic beetle. A fan-throated lizard. A rice rat that may be an example of island gigantism. And two crocodile-faced dinosaurs. These are some of the more than 550 species that researchers at the Natural History Museum in London discovered in 2021, despite COVID-19 restrictions.
The museum's largest discoveries were two carnivorous dinosaurs dug up on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom. The extinct spinosaurids, which sported crocodile-like mubs, were affectionately named "hell heron" and "riverbank hunter," respectively. Another new U.K. dinosaur species was named "chief dragon," even though it was the size of a chicken, Live Science previously reported.
"It's been a fantastic year for the description of new dinosaurs, especially from the U.K.," Susannah Maidment, a senior researcher at the museum, said in a statement. "Although we've known about the U.K.'s dinosaur heritage for over 150 years, the application of new techniques and new data from around the world is helping us to uncover a hidden diversity of British dinosaurs."
The COVID-19 pandemic restricted the museum's access to international field sites and other museums. Despite this, researchers, curators and scientific associates of the museum managed to describe 552 new plant and animal species from Earth's past and present.
More than half of the new species were part of a group of crustaceans called copepods, which accounted for 291 of the discoveries. These shrimp-like animals live in water and provide food for larger animals such as fish, according to the museum's statement.
Retired museum researcher Geoff Boxshall and his colleague in South Korea, Il-Hoi Kim, described the new copepods this year from a massive batch collected over more than 60 years by French researchers Claude and Francoise Monniot.
"The huge Monniot collection was made available to Il-Hoi Kim and myself, and as we are both recently retired, we theoretically had time to finally go through it," Boxshall said. "However, the collection was so enormous it was somewhat daunting — but then COVID-19 happened.
Boxshall completed a series of papers describing the copepods as a "lockdown project" when he was unable to enter the museum. The rest of the new finds included 90 beetles, 52 wasps, 13 moths, eight algae, six parasitic worms and five plants.
Two ancient mammals were also among 2021's haul: Scientists discovered the remains of an oversized rodent, Megalomys camerhogne, also called a rice rat, which once lived along the Caribbean; they also uncovered a Jurassic mouse-like creature now called Borealestes cullinensis that would have scampered at dinosaurs' feet in what is today Scotland some 166 million years ago.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Patrick Pester is a freelance writer and previously a staff writer at Live Science. His background is in wildlife conservation and he has worked with endangered species around the world. Patrick holds a master's degree in international journalism from Cardiff University in the U.K.