Hundreds of brand-spankin'-new species discovered in the Smokies

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I spent three amazing months working at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and let me tell ya, there's life everywhere. Slithering across the trail. Multiplying under logs. Creeping up the side of your tent. From black bears to black widow spiders, the biodiversity in those rolling mountains is un-frickin'-believable.

And, it turns out, that's not even the half of it. In the 10 years since a study counting creatures in the park began, McClatchy Newspapers report that researchers have discovered a whopping 890 species that are entirely new to science—as in, nobody, anywhere, knew they existed until now. Most of these newbies aren't exactly charismatic megafauna—we're talking 270 kinds of bacteria, 78 varieties of algae, and 57 types of fungi—but the inventory also ferreted out dozens of unknown spiders, beetles, crustaceans, and butterflies.

The study, called the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, has already documented 16,570 different species living in the 521,000 acres that make up the park. Even more mind-blowing: Project experts estimate that twice as many more species are yet to be found.

Forget the mysteries of space or the ocean's depths: Clearly, we don't even know what's hanging out just out of sight in America's busiest park. But in a country where unexplored terrain seems harder and harder to find, it's pretty incredible—and inspiring—to think of how much that's still out there to be discovered.

-Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

"Researchers unearth hundreds of previously unknown species in Smokies" (McClatchy Newspapers) All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory