Are you looking for Bigfoot? A Thunderbird? A pterodactyl you believe is still alive? A Chupacabra? Bunyip? Would it help if you had a map of the most likely places these and other undiscovered or rumored species might be hiding? Then put on your cryptid hunting clothes and pull the “Map of Life” up on your cellphone. Produced at Yale University, it’s billed as “a map of where life has yet to be discovered.”
“Much of biodiversity remains undiscovered, causing species and their functions to remain unrealized and potentially lost in ignorance. Here we use extensive species-level data in a time-to-event model framework to identify taxonomic and geographic discovery gaps in terrestrial vertebrates.”
Walter Jetz, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale, and Mario Moura, a former Yale postdoctoral associate in Jetz’s lab, co-authored the paper, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, describing their study and the interactive map they created. While the stated goal is to help preserve Earth’s biodiversity and save some rare and not-yet-discovered species before they face extinction, the methodology is applicable for cryptids of the terrestrial vertebrate kind as well.
“Conservative estimates suggest only 13 to 18 percent of all living species may be known at this point, although this number could be as low as 1.5 percent.”
In a university press release, Moura and Jetz explain that discovery obviously is size-related – large mammals and reptiles are found before tiny creatures that can hide in cracks, caves and even under leaves. In fact, since the beginning of modern taxonomy in 1758, more than 1.8 million of species have been described, but the planet is estimated to have more than 10 million of species. The map shows where the over 32,000 terrestrial vertebrates already known to biologists are now and where the rest of them have the likeliest probability of being. To help intrepid creature hunters, the data can be displayed by clicking on countries, similar species and pinpointed spots broken down by amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals and their likelihood of being there. (See and test the map here.)
“Our model identifies distinct taxonomic and geographic unevenness in future discovery potential, with greatest opportunities for amphibians and reptiles, and for Neotropical and Indo-Malayan forests. Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and Colombia emerge as holding greatest discovery opportunities, with a quarter of potential discoveries estimated.”
If you’re looking for hidden dinosaurs, rainforests are obvious places to look. Mammals are likely in Central and South America as well as China and Indonesia. If you’re looking for that mammalian Bigfoot, the Pacific Northwest looks like the place to search, while the rumored Thunderbird has the highest probability of being found in the western states.
“A more even distribution of taxonomic resources can accelerate species discoveries and limit the number of ‘forever unknown’ extinctions.”
If you think cryptid hunters are unsuccessful because they’re looking in the wrong places, Jetz agrees with you – taxonomists are not concentrated where they could make the most discoveries either. That requires funding – a topic the map and study will help address at the upcoming Convention of Biological Diversity later this year where nations will meet to to negotiate a new Global Biodiversity Framework.
Should cryptozoologists have a seat at the Convention of Biological Diversity? A positive case can certainly be made that many species believed to be mythical have eventually been found. All it would take is one discovery. Download the app and head for the hotspots – you could be the person in that seat.