The annual list, released by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of taxonomists from around the world, is designed to call attention to Earth’s biodiversity and celebrate the birthday Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who was responsible for developing the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications.
“We are surrounded by such an exuberance of species diversity that we too often take it for granted,” said Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist who directs the institute. “Most people do not realize just how incomplete our knowledge of Earth’s species is or the steady rate at which taxonomists are exploring that diversity.”
Photos and other information about the top 10 new species, including the explorers who made the discoveries, are online at http://species.asu.edu.
The winners are:
* A leech (pictured), less than 2 inches in length but with a single jaw and gigantic teeth, earning it the name Tyrannobdella rex, which means “tyrant leech king.” Found in Peru, this leech was discovered attached to the nasal mucous membrane of a human. According to the scientists who reported the discovery, there are 600 to 700 species of described leeches, yet there could be as many as 10,000 more throughout the world.
* An iron-oxide consuming bacterium that was discovered on a rusticle from the RMS Titanic and named Halomonas titanicae by a team of scientists from Dalhousie University in Canada and the University of Sevilla in Spain. The passenger steamship Titanic struck a massive iceberg in 1912 on its maiden voyage and sank deep in the Atlantic Ocean, where it has been deteriorating. Studies show that the bacterium sticks to steel surfaces, creating knob-like mounds of corrosion products. Researchers believe this bacterium could be useful in the disposal of old ships and oil rigs that lie deep in the ocean.
* A pancake batfish that lives in waters either partially or fully encompassed by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Named Halieutichthys intermedius, this bottom-dwelling species seems to hop on its thick, arm-like fins as it moves awkwardly in the water, resembling a walking bat. John Sparks, curator of ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History, one of the scientists who reported the discovery, said: “If we are still finding new species of fishes in the Gulf, imagine how much diversity, especially microdiversity, is out there that we do not know about.”
* A luminescent fungus collected in São Paulo, Brazil, found on sticks in an Atlantic forest habitat. The teeny mushrooms, less than 8 millimeters in diameter with caps smaller than 2 centimeters across, have gel-coated stems that glow constantly, emitting a bright, yellowish-green light. San Francisco State University biology professor Dennis Desjardin and his colleagues who made the discovery, named the new species Mycena luxaeterna (eternal light) after a movement in Mozart’s “Requiem.” Desjardin, who has discovered more than 200 new fungi species, noted that of the estimated 1.5 million species of fungi on Earth, only 71 species are known to be bioluminescent.
* A cockroach that exhibits unusual morphology with legs that are highly modified for jumping. Named Saltoblattella montistabularis – Saltoblattella is the Latin translation of “jumping small cockroach” – this critter has jumping ability that is on par with grasshoppers. Prior to its discovery, jumping cockroaches were only known from the Late Jurassic. In addition to the leg modifications, it has hemispherical shaped eyes, rather than kidney shaped eyes, which protrude from the sides of the head, and its antennae have an additional fixation point to help stabilize it during jumping.
* At 6 feet 6 inches in length, a frugivorous (fruit-eating) monitor lizard found in the Northern Sierra Madre Forest on Luzon Island in the Philippines is the longest species to make this year’s top 10. Weighing only 22 pounds, this species is brightly colored with stripes of gold flecks. Its scaly body and legs are a blue-black mottled with pale yellow-green dots and its tail is marked in alternating segments of black and green. Named Varanus bitatawa, this lizard spends most of its time in trees and has become a flagship species for conservation in the Philippines.
* A duiker (antelope) from West Africa was first encountered at a bushmeat market, a surprising find, according to the scientists who reported the new species in Zootaxa. “The discovery of a new species from a well-studied group of animals in the context of bushmeat exploitation is a sobering reminder of the mammalian species that remain to be described, even within those that are being exploited on a daily basis for food or ritual activities,” wrote Marc Colyn from the University of Rennes, France, and his co-authors. The species is named Philantomba walteri or “Walter’s Duiker” for the late Walter N. Verheyen, in honor of his work on African mammals. Verheyen reportedly collected the first specimen at Badou, Togo, in 1968.
* Glomeremus orchidophilus – a raspy cricket – made the list for its distinction of being the only pollinator of the rare and endangered orchid Angraecum cadetii on Réunion in the Mascarene Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The scientists who made the discovery wrote that this species, which belongs to a subfamily of crickets that make a raspy sound, represents the first supported case of regular pollination by an insect from the order Orthoptera in extant flowering plants.
* A gilled mushroom in the northwestern United States submerged in the clear, cold, flowing waters of the upper Rogue River in Oregon. What makes Psathyrella aquatica distinct, and a member of this year’s top 10, is that it was observed over 11 weeks, fruiting underwater.
* An orb-weaving spider from Madagascar that was named for Charles Darwin – Caerostris darwini. The webs of Darwin’s Bark Spider have been found spanning rivers, streams and lakes, and in one instance, a web stretched 82 feet across a Madagascar river with at least 30 insects trapped in it. But length of the web isn’t the only distinction of this species. The silk spun by these spiders is more than two times stronger than any other known spider silk and reportedly 10 times stronger than a similarly sized piece of Kevlar.
Previous top 10 lists are online at http://species.asu.edu, and you can nominate a species for the 2012 list (described in 2011) at http://species.asu.edu/species-nomination. – David Malakoff | May 24, 2011
Image courtesy PLoS ONE/IISE