Top 10 new species: Nature’s new superstars

  • Halieutichthys intermedius Image courtesy of Prosanta Chakrabarty (Louisiana State University)
  • Varanus bitatawa Image courtesy of AC Diesmos (National Museum of the Philippines)
  • Halomonas titanicae Image courtesy of RMS Titanic
  • Psathyrella aquatica Robert Coffan (Southern Oregon University, USA)
  • Mycena luxaeterna Cassius V Stevani (Instituto de Quimica, Univ de São Paulo, Brazil)
  • Mycena luxaeterna Cassius V Stevani (Instituto de Quimica, Univ de São Paulo, Brazil)
  • Caerostris darwini Matjaž Kuntner (Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts)
  • Glomeremus orchidophilus Courtesy of Sylvain Hugel (Université de Strasbourg, France)
  • Zootaxa Yann LE BRIS
  • Tyrannobdella rex PLoS ONE
  • Saltoblattella montistabularis Images courtesy of Mike Picker (University of Cape Town)
Date:29 July 2011 Tags:, , , , , ,

Glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, a batfish flat as a pancake that appears to hop in the water, Titanic-eating bacterium, and a T. rex leech with enormous teeth are among the new species from 2010 selected as the top 10 by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of taxonomists from around the world – scientists responsible for species exploration and classification.

Also on the list are a cricket that pollinates a rare orchid, a rogue mushroom that fruits underwater, and an orb-weaving spider named after Darwin that builds webs large enough to span rivers and lakes. Rounding out the top 10 new species are a jumping cockroach, a 1,9 m-long fruit-eating lizard, and a duiker first encountered at a bushmeat market in Africa.

The announcement of this year’s top 10 new species coincided with the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who was responsible for the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications. This year’s top 10 come from around the world, including Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar, the North Atlantic Ocean, Oregon, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa and West Africa.

And the winners are…

Among this year’s top 10 picks is a leech, less than 5 cm 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.

A top 10 choice in the fish category is 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.”

At 1,9 m 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. Weighing just under 10 kg, this species is brightly coloured, with stripes of gold flecks. Its scaly body and legs are blue-black mottled with pale yellowgreen 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.

The Silvermine Nature Reserve, part of our very own Table Mountain National Park, is home to another character on this year’s top 10 list – a new species of cockroach that exhibits unusual morphology with legs that are highly modified for jumping. Named Saltoblattella montistabularisSaltoblattella 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 known only from the Late Jurassic. In addition to the leg modifications, it has hemispherical rather than kidney-shaped eyes, which protrude from the sides of the head, and its antennae have an additional fixation point to help stabilise it when jumping.

A new 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 Verheyen, in honour of his work on African mammals. Verheyen reportedly collected the first specimen at Badou, Togo, in 1968.

Also making the list is the 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 Seville in Spain. The passenger steamship Titanic struck a massive iceberg in 1912 on its maiden voyage and sank deep in the Atlantic Ocean. 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.

Glomeremus orchidophilus – a raspy cricket – made the top 10 list for its distinction of being the only pollinator of the rare and endangered orchid Angraecum cadetii on Réunion in the Indian Ocean’s Mascarene Archipelago. The scientists who made the discovery wrote that this species, which belongs to a sub-family 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.

Lighting up the top 10 is a luminescent fungus collected in São Paulo, Brazil, found on sticks in an Atlantic forest habitat. The teeny mushrooms, less than 8 mm in diameter with caps smaller than 2 cm 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.

Scientists found a species of 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 a period of 11 weeks, fruiting underwater.

Rounding out the top 10 picks is 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 30 m across a Madagascar river . with at least 30 insects trapped in it. But length of the web isnft this speciesfonly distinction. 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 similar-sized piece of Kevlar.

"At the same time that astronomers search for Earth-like planets in visible space, taxonomists are busily exploring the life forms of the most Earth-like planet of all, our own," says Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist who directs the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.

"We can only realistically aspire to sustainable biodiversity if we first learn what species exist to begin with. Our best guess is that all species discovered since 1758 represent less than 20 per cent of the kinds of plants and animals inhabiting planet Earth. A reasonable estimate is that 10 million species remain to be described, named and classified before the diversity and complexity of the biosphere is understood."

  • Source: Arizona State University