Naming Opportunity for a New Species of Beaksedge

By Dr. Robert Naczi and Heather Barrett

Through his research to document the diversity and conservation status of Belizean sedges, Dr. Robert Naczi of New York Botanical Garden recently discovered a species of beaksedge previously unknown to science. In Belize, the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae) is one of the five largest (most species-rich) plant families. Beaksedges (genus Rhynchospora) are a diverse and ecologically important group of flowering plants, especially in the tropics. Beaksedges constitute the largest genus of plants in Belize, with 53 species.

When a scientist formally publishes a new species in order to make it known to the world, the new scientific name is one of the most exciting parts of the publication. This name becomes the means of communicating about the species throughout the world. Because this name will be permanent and must be unique, its formation is very important and provides an opportunity to be creative.

The fact the new species of beaksedge is unnamed presents an opportunity. Dr. Naczi has generously offered to donate the naming rights to BFREE to support our spring fundraising. Therefore, from Earth Day until Arbor Day (donations made in response to this eNews will also be included), any donation of $100.00 or more will be entered into a raffle to win the opportunity to name the beaksedge. The minimum value of this naming opportunity has been set by Dr. Naczi at $15,000.00 with all proceeds going towards BFREE’s conservation programs. For every $100.00 you donate, your name is entered into the raffle one time. The more you donate, the more chances you have to win! To donate today, click here.

Note: The fundraiser must reach its minimum goal of $15,000 for the raffle to occur.    

The new species is remarkable in several ways. It is known only from Belize, and increases the number of known plant species restricted to Belize to 42, highlighting the importance of Belize as a biodiversity hotspot. Also, this new species belongs to a group of species most diverse in the eastern U.S.A. In fact, this new species is the only member of this group that is restricted to the tropics. Its occurrence in Belize is completely unexpected, but Belize is full of surprises!

Botanical drawing of the newly identified Beaksedge – Copyright Bobbi Angell

17 New Species of Land Snails Discovered in Belize

17 New Species of Land Snails Discovered in Belize

By Dan and Judy Dourson

The beautiful country of  Belize, known to the rest of the world for its stunning reef and adventure tourism, has a new claim to fame as home to seventeen new species of land snails! This information was uncovered thanks to a long-term study by Malacologists (scientists who study snails) Dan Dourson, Judy  Dourson, and Ron Caldwell. Along with  several well-trained Belizean biological field technicians, the  trio have been searching the leaf litter, epiphytes, deep caves,  sinkholes, and the remote sections of the Maya  Mountains for more than a decade. They have added new species of land snails to  science and many new land snail records for Belize.

Judy and Dan Dourson pose for a photo in Placencia, Belize.

The study began when husband and wife team, Dan and Judy Dourson, came to the country to assist BFREE in 2006. Dr. Ron Caldwell joined the Doursons through his affiliation with Lincoln  Memorial University in Tennessee.

So, you may ask, what’s the big deal about discovering 17 new species of snails? When the Doursons and Caldwell began surveying Belize, only 24 species of land snails were reported. Their research has added 135 species, a staggering 558% increase in land snail biodiversity for the country.

Even though snails rank as one of the most numerous and speciose groups of organisms on Earth, they remain largely unstudied. As a result, little is known of their importance in ecosystems. Land snails, like most invertebrates, suffer from being in a conservation “blind-spot”.

Every expedition into the Maya Mountains has yielded spectacular finds for the team. A 2016 National Geographic-Waitt Foundation Grand-funded and UNC Wilmington-led expedition looked at the functioning of a tropical ecosystem from the bottom up by studying the links between Harpy eagles (a top predator) and land snails who occupy the bottom of the food web. The links between these two divergent organisms were established by documenting Harpy eagle food that consumed land snails. The study also found two new species living at the bottom of a 100-meter deep sinkhole in the middle of the Bladen Nature Reserve. As a result, the Maya Mountains is considered to be one of the most important land snail regions in Central America and may exceed other areas of comparable size in terms of numbers of species and endemism.

The team’s long-term research resulted in the development of the first field guide for the region, Land Snails of Belize, A Chronicle of Diversity and Function and the first comprehensive publication since the early 1900s for Central America. The book includes species accounts and range maps for all 158 species. Many of the 17 new species described in the book were named to honor Belizeans and other conservationists.

Seventeen New Species to Science and Described from Belize (2018)

1 Hairy Lucidella Lucidella caldwelli Named in recognition of Ron Caldwell’s important contributions in land snail research in Belize.


2 Checkered Cone Drymaeus tzubi Named in honor of Belizean, Valentino Tzub of San Jose, Toledo District, one of Belize’s top biological field technicians. Valentino discovered many new land snail records and several new species to science including the recently described Eucalodium belizensis of southern Belize.


3 Rosy Marauder Euglandina fosteri In honor of award-winning wildlife filmmakers, Richard Foster & Carol Farneti Foster whose work has increased understanding of the natural world including the never before filmed interactions of Sibon snakes and land snails.


4 Blue Creek Shaft Pseudosubulina juancho In honor of Juan Cho, for his contribution to the environment by promoting and utilizing sustainable organic agricultural practices in the Toledo District of Belize to produce organic chocolate.


5 Montane Splinter Rectaxis breweri Named in honor of Steven Brewer, an extraordinary and passionate botanist who has spent countless hours exploring and cataloging Belize’s outstanding plant life.


6 Bladen Cave Snail Opeas marlini Named in honor of Jacob Marlin who has dedicated most of his life to passionately protecting the crown jewel of protected areas in Belize, the Bladen Nature Reserve.


7 Belize Cave Snail Leptopeas corwinii Named in recognition of Jeff Corwin, a conservation biologist who conducted research at Blue Creek Cave for a Master’s degree studying Central America bats and continues to educate the public about the natural world through his outstanding wildlife films.


8 Macal River Cave Snail Lamellaxis matola Named in honor of Sharon Matola, founder of the Belize Zoo for her dedication and perseverance in protecting Belize’s abandoned wildlife and commitment to education about the incredible wildlife of Belize.


9 Blue Creek Cave Snail Leptinaria doddi Named in honor of Frederick Dodd, founder of International Zoological Expeditions (IZE) who had the foresight to purchase and protect the wild jungles surrounding Blue Creek Cave, the only known location for the globally rare Blue Creek Cave Funnel.


10 Smooth Quill Brachypodella levisa Levisa is Latin for smooth.


11 Hairy Phora Thysanophora meermani Named in honor of Jan Meerman, an extraordinary Belizean biologist whose work to create a database for wildlife in Belize has been an invaluable resource.


12 Mountain Gloss Miradiscops striatae Striatae means striate in Latin.


13 Hillside Gloss Miradiscops youngii Named in honor of Colin Young in recognition of his outstanding work in the field of conservation and biology in Belize.


14 Bladen Gloss Miradiscops bladenensis Named in honor of the Bladen Nature Reserve, the “crown jewel” of Belize’s numerous protected areas.


15 Maya Mountain Rotadiscus Rotadiscus saqui Named in honor of Ernesto and Aurora Garcia Saqui for their extraordinary contributions to conservation, Mayan cultural preservation, art and alternative healing in Belize.


16 Ornate Crystal Chanomphalus angelae Named in honor of Dan and Judy’s daughter, Angela Dourson Christensen, a woman of uncommon courage and genuine honesty for which they are deeply proud.


17 Oak Ridge Teardrop Cecilioides  dicaprio Named in honor of American actor Leonardo Dicaprio for using the medium of film to bring attention to the challenges facing our natural world and planet and promoting sustainable tourism in Belize.