Each year at this time, the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE, Arizona State University) convenes a meeting of taxon experts (i.e., experts in classifying organisms) to select the ‘top ten new species’ discovered in the preceding year.
It’s no easy task; last year some 18,000 new species were “officially described” (most being microbes).The IISE committee must assess the list-worthiness of hundreds of new species that had been nominated by the public, scientists, scientific journal editors, IISE staff, and by the committee members themselves. The committee is chaired by Dr. Mary Liz Jameson.
It’s all quite unofficially official and meant to celebrate the wonders of Nature’s biodiversity, to inspire future discoveries, and advocate for greater conservation. This, in an age when hundreds of species of plants and animals go extinct each year and biologists tell us we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction.
Is what is perhaps a sad indicator of current trends, only one vertebrate (a primate, no less, with a curiously human-like trait) has made the list. None-the-less, the list is always fascinating for its revelation of Nature’s marvels, and includes a deep-earth-dwelling worm, the first night-blooming orchid ever found, an ultra cool and colorful sea jelly, and a tarantula that’s got the existential ‘blues’…and more….
So then, in the order listed by the IISE, here are the top ten new species of 2012:
- Sneezing Monkey (Rhinopithecus stryken) – Less than 40 new mammal species are discovered in any given year, and finding a new primate is rarer still. Thus, the sneezing monkey was sure to top the list. The genus name hints at the primate’s meteorological “affliction”…Native to the high-mountain regions of Myanmar, this snub-nosed monkey was discovered by accident when field biologists were conducting a gibbon survey. Its black fur and white beard give it a striking appearance, but if there’s any doubt, just wait for it to rain, which causes the primate to sneeze. The monkey is believed to be critically endangered. Read more about the Sneezing Monkey.
Bonaire Banded Box Jelly (Tamoya ohboya) – Judging by the specie name, one might guess that the discoverer(s) of this beautiful jelly were rather excited, but it was in fact selected from amongst 300 entries in a naming contest; the winner was a high school biology teacher, Lisa Peck, who thought it a probable reaction (“Oh boy!”) for when first-sighted by swimmers or divers. Though not deadly, its alluring coloration belies a nasty sting. It is native to the waters of the Dutch Caribbean. Commonly known since 2001, the Bonaire banded box jelly was not officially described, and given its scientific taxa, until 2011.
Devil’s Worm (Halicephalobus mephisto) – Discovered 1.3 km (8/10 mile) below ground in a South African gold mine, this .5mm long nematode worm is believed to be the deepest dwelling, multi-celled organism on the planet. The extremophile worm was found in ‘borehole’ water under tremendous pressure and where the temperature reaches 37 C (98.6 F), and so it earns its specific name mephisto. Its previously untouched, biofilm habitat was carbon-dated to between four and six thousands years old. Further study of the extreme nematode could help astrobiologists understand likely places and conditions to look for life on other planets. Read more about the Devil’s Worm.
Night-blooming Orchid (Bulbophyllum nocturnum) – Of the 25,000 known species of orchids, this is the only one known to bloom at night (hence its species name). What makes this trait rarer still is that there are over 200o members of this genus (Bulbophyllum) but not another night-bloomer among them. And rarest of all, this species is known from a single plant with the rest of its bloomin’ kind possibly lost to habitat destruction due to logging. It has a 12 hour bloom cycle that begins around 10pm. It is native to New Guinea – considered to be the richest biodiversity ‘hot spot’ on Earth.
Dive-Bombing Wasp (Kollasmosoma sentum) – This tiny parasitic wasp sticks close to the ground and prefers to attack a single type of ant (Cataglyphis ibericus) for which its lightning fast (lasting .052 seconds per sortie) dive-bombing is targeted…but not for eating, for egg-laying. The amazing, high-speed ovipositing has been captured on high-speed film…Watch the Youtube video of this wasp in full “attack” mode!
Spongebob Squarepants Mushroom (Spongiforma squarepantsii) – Its discovery was reported last year here on PS…the rather brainy-looking, cartoonishly named fungus is just the second member of the genus Spongiforma ever found, and this one is found only on the island of Borneo, Malaysia, resembling a sponge more that a mushroom (which it is). Even more sponge-like: its fruiting body can be squeezed like a sponge and will return to its original shape when the squeezing ends. And lest you think its name is too frivolous for scientific acceptance, the original discoverers point out that it has a fruity aroma (Spongebob lives in a pineapple) and a close-up view of the fungal structure looks like the tube sponges on the sea floor where Spongebob lives…Still not scientific enough for you? Well, crab patties!
Nepalese Autumn Poppy (Meconopsis autumnalis) – With its beautiful and vivid blossoms, one might think that the poppy had been described before. Indeed, specimens had been collected twice before (the first time in 1962!) but the species was not recognized as new. It was re-collected last year by some adventurous botanists who had gone climbing and collecting during a heavy monsoon rain (a good time to look for flowers, apparently). The autumn-blooming poppy grows only at an extreme elevation: between 10,627 and 13, 780 feet (now that’s an ecological niche!), in the central region of Nepal.
Wandering Leg Sausage – Millipede (Crurifarcimen vagans) - It’s an odd common name for a millipede, but that’s what its scientific name actually translates as…And, upon closer inspection, we can see that the mlilipede does indeed resemble a sausage — with lots of legs. The creature’s body is 16 cm in length (just under half the size of the giant African millipede, Archispirostreptus gigas, at 38 cm /15 inches) and composed of 56 podous (foot-bearing) ring segments (each with two pairs of legs, so, more like hundreds of legs, not a thousand). C. vagans (the species name means ‘wanderer’) prefers to inhabit decaying wood and is found only in the eastern and western Usambara Mountain forests of Tanzania, at elevations of 940 to 1800 meters.
Walking Cactus (Diania cactiformis) - The only extinct new species on the list…It’s common name reflects the fact that it looks more like a cactus (that walks) than an animal, but this unique and ancient creature actually belongs to an extinct order of Cambrian era, worm-like creatures called the armoured lobopodia. The segmented legs of D. cactiformis lend credence to the contention that modern arthropods (the largest animal phylum that includes insects, spiders and crustaceans) were all descended from the lobopodia. The only living lobopodia (velvet worms, the Onychophora) also have worm-like bodies and multiple pairs of legs. So, it looks like the creature may share a more recent common ancestor with the arthropods than the lobopods. D. cactiformis was found in 520 million year old fossil deposits in Chengjiang, China.
Sazima’s Tarantula (Pterinopelma sazimai) – This exquisite, iridescent blue tarantula has a very restricted habitat high up on Brazil’s ‘table top’ mountains -an elevated “ecological island” with its own unique weather (high rainfall) and soil conditions. Though not the only blue tarantula, its striking presence makes it prized as a pet. Due to over-collecting and the expected habitat destruction, the azure arachnid is considered vulnerable and at risk of extinction.
Resource for this post: Top 10 New Species – 2012 (IISE/ASU)
Top photo: (Tamoya ohboya, Bonaire-Banded-Box-Jelly) credit: Ned DeLoach
In alphabetical order, this year’s committee included:
- Dr. Philippe Bouchet, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris, France
- Dr. Meg Daly, Ohio State University, USA
- Chair, Dr. Mary Liz Jameson, Wichita State University, USA
- Dr. Peter Kämpfer, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Germany
- Dr. Niels Kristensen, Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
- Dr. James Macklin, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
- Dr. Ellinor Michel, Natural History Museum, London, UK
- Dr. John Noyes, Natural History Museum, London, UK
- Dr. Alan Paton, International Plant Names Index and Royal Botanical Garden Kew, UK
- Dr. Andrew Polaszek, Natural History Museum, London, UK
- Dr. Marcelo Rodrigues de Carvalho, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
- Dr. Gideon Smith, South African National Biodiversity Institute
- Dr. Antonio Valdecasas, Museo National Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain
- Dr. Zhi-Qiang Zhang, International Commission on Zoological
Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles and essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is also an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). Michael currently lives in Seattle, Washington.