A leech with over-sized teeth, a glow-in-the-dark mushroom, a bacterium that eats iron, a giant orb spider that spins super silk… “New” to us, for sure, but not new in Nature. Some on the list have been around for millions of years, no doubt. Some, like the jumping cockroach, may not sound so appealing to human ears.
Although not so “glamorous”, the list is quite international; members of the top ten come from Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean, Brazil, the North Atlantic Ocean, Oregon (in the U.S.), the Gulf of Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, and South and West Africa.
The annual ‘top ten’ announcement comes on the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus — the ‘grand father’ of taxonomy who popularized the genus/species designations in his best selling, 18th-century work the Systema Naturae. The list was compiled by a group of taxonomists working with the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) at Arizona State University.
Taxonomist have classified some 2.5 million species to date. Biologists estimate that only 20% of all species have been classified and that there are possibly ten million unclassified species left on earth (most of these being insects and microbes). In an on-going mission, biologist and ecologists are also attempting to “bar code” (i.e., identify via a genetic sequence) all known life forms.
One can just imagine (a fly on the wall) the heated debate over the ninth/tenth spots on the list…. ‘I nominate the Cockroach! No, I say the Leech!’…Actually, the list does not rank species, but, rather, represents a select group (most of which are probably endangered, or their habitats are).
So, in no particular order, and without further ado…
Pancake batfish: (Halieutichthys intermedius) The Louisiana Pancake Batfish (common name) was discovered in the oil-saturated sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico. This rather odd-looking fish uses its thick, limb-like fins to hop about the sea floor, resembling a walking bat. Photo credit: Prosanta Chakrabart, Louisianan State Univ.
Monitor lizard: (Varanus bitatawa) Also known as the Sierra Madre Forest monitor lizard, or Golden spotted monitor lizard, this fruit-eating, tree-dwelling, reptile was discovered in the Philippines. The blue, black, green and gold lizard, can grow over 6 feet (1.8 meters) and weigh more than 20 pounds. Photo credit: J. Brown
Giant orb-weaver: (Caerostris darwini) Also known as Darwin’s Bark spider, the giant orb-weaving spider’s silk is twice as strong as any other known spider’s silk. It was discovered in Madagascar and is known to make webs that can span rivers and even lakes. Photo credit: Matjaž Kuntner
Gilled mushroom: (Psathyrella aquatica) This gilled mushroom was found “fruiting” beneath the cold, fast moving waters of the upper Rogue River in Oregon, U.S.A. Photo credit: Robert Coffan, Southern Oregon Univ.
Jumping cockroach: (Saltoblattella montistabularis) The jumping cockroach has legs that are fine-turned for jumping, putting its ability on par with grasshoppers. The cockroach, also known as a ‘leap roach’ was discovered in Table Mountain National Park in South Africa. Prior to the discovery, the only known examples of jumping roaches were from Jurassic period fossils. Photo credit: Mike Picker, Univ. of Cape Town, S. Africa
T. Rex leech: (Tyranobdella rex) The less than two-inch leech has (comparatively) gigantic teeth and was found living in the nostril of a 9 year old Peruvian girl by physician Renzo Arauco-Brown. There are only 600-700 classified species of leeches with estimates of up to 10,000 more species yet to be classified. Photo credit: PLoS ONE
Titanic bacterium: (Halomonas titanicae) This iron-eating bacterium was found at the bottom of the ocean, at the site of the RMS Titanic shipwreck. The bacterium attaches to steel surfaces, creating knobby, icicle-like, corrosive growths called “rusticles.”
Glowing fungus: (Mycena luxaeterna) Common name: Eternal Light (from a movement in Mozart’s ‘Requiem’), the bio-luminescent fungus was found in São Paulo, Brazil. The mushroom stems are coated with a gel that emits a bright, yellowish-green light. The fungus was discovered by San Francisco State University biology professor Dennis Desjardin and his colleagues. Photo Credit: Cassius V. Stevani
Raspy cricket: (Glomeremus orchidophilus) Found only on the Mascarene Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the cricket is the only known pollinator of the rare and endangered orchid Angraecum cadetii. Photo credit: C. Micheneau (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium) and J.
Lastly, and perhaps most tragically…
(Dead/no picture) Antelope: (Philantomba walteri) This completely new species of antelope was discovered, already dead, at a bushmeat market in West Africa (one wonders how many other unknown species have been sold at such markets, but never identified).
Top Photo: A. C. Diesmos (National Museum of the Philippines)