Top 10 Newly Discovered Species of 2011


Every year, the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of international scientists compile a list of their picks for the top 10 newly described species. The annual top 10 new species list has just been released for 2011.

This year’s list includes: a new type of box jelly, a worm living nearly a mile underground, a mushroom that looks like a sea sponge, a blue tarantula, a new poppy, a giant millipede, a sneezing monkey, an orchid that blooms at night, a wasp that lays its eggs inside ants, and an extinct creature that looked like a walking cactus.

“The top 10 is intended to bring attention to the biodiversity crisis and the unsung species explorers and museums who continue a 250-year tradition of discovering and describing the millions of kinds of plants, animals and microbes with whom we share this planet,” said Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist who directs the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU.

The selection committee looks for “species that capture our attention because they are unusual or because they have traits that are bizarre,” said Mary Liz Jameson, an associate professor at Wichita State University who chaired the international selection committee. “Some of the new species have interesting names; some highlight what little we really know about our planet,” she said.

Here they are:

Sneezing Monkey: Rhinopithecus stryker was discovered in the high mountains of Myanmar. It’s the first snub-nosed monkey to be found in Myanmar, and is believed to be critically endangered. It’s covered in nearly all black fur except for a white beard. And it sneezes when it rains. Here’s a video of some sneezing monkeys:

Bonaire Banded Box Jelly: Tamoya ohboya is a new species of box jelly. Its name means what it sounds like — “oh boy!” It was selected as part of a citizen science project, presumably because people that are stung by it say that. It was spotted around the Dutch Caribbean Island of Bonaire. Here’s a video of it:

Devil’s Worm: About half a millimeter long, these are the deepest-living land animals on the planet. They were discovered 8/10 of a mile underground in a South African gold mine. It’s named Halicephalobus mephisto, after the devil, because of their survival in a place of such immense pressure and heat. The temperature down there is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Carbon dating has indicated that the borehole water where they were found hasn’t been in contact with the Earth’s atmosphere for the past 4,000-6,000 years.

Night Blooming Orchid: Bulbophyllum nocturnum is the first night-blooming orchid ever found, among the 25,000 or so species of orchids. Its flowers open up at 10pm at night and then close up early the next morning. It was discovered in Papua New Guinea.

Parasitic Wasp: Kollasmosoma sentum is a tiny, low-flying, parasitic wasp that was discovered in Madrid, Spain. It dive bombs in on ants and deposits an egg in less than 1/20 of a second. Here’s a video of one in action:

Spongebob Squarepants Mushroom: Spongiforma squarepantsii is a new species of fungus that looks like a sea sponge. It’s fruiting body can be squeezed and return to its original shape just like a sponge, and it smells like fruit. It was discovered on the island of Borneo.

Nepalese Autumn Poppy: Meconopsis autumnalis is a yellow poppy that grows high in the mountains of Nepal, at heights of 10,827 to 13,780 feet. It’s named autumnalis because it flowers late in autumn.

Giant Millipede: Crurifarcimen vagans is a millipede about the size of a sausage. Now holding the record for the largest millipede in the world, it grows up to 16 cm long. It was discovered in Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains.

Walking Cactus: Diania cactiformis is an extinct animal that belonged to a group of legged worm-like animals called Lobopodia. The fossil was discovered in deposits dating back to the Cambrian period 520 million years ago. It was discovered in what is now China. It’s anatomy suggests that it may share a common ancestry with arthropods, including insects and spiders.

Sazima’s Tarantula: Pterinopelma sazimai is an iridescent, hairy blue tarantula. It was discovered in Brazil.

“The more species we discover, the more amazing the biosphere proves to be, and the better prepared we are to face whatever environmental challenges lie ahead,” said the institute’s Wheeler, who also is a professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability and its School of Life Sciences.

“It is impossible to do justice to the species discoveries made each year by singling out just 10. Imagine being handed 18,000 newly published books packed with fantastic information and stories and before having the opportunity to read them, being asked to pick the best 10,” Wheeler said. “With the help of an international committee of experts we do the best we can by picking those with flashy jackets, surprising titles and unexpected plot lines in an effort to draw attention to the whole lot.

“There are many reasons to discover and describe species, and draw attention to this work. Perhaps most obvious is environmental: Unless we know what species exist to begin with, we are powerless to detect, track or mitigate losses of biodiversity,” said Wheeler. “Another is biomimetics, turning to species for clues about new and sustainable ways to meet our needs for survival, materials and designs. There is also an intergenerational ethical imperative for species exploration. Because human population levels and activities are driving extinctions, we owe to humans who follow to explore and document our flora and fauna.

“Each species provides a unique chapter in the history of life and unless we discover them now, we stand to lose an enormous amount of irreplaceable evidence about our own origins and relatives,” said Wheeler, who is one of an international group of 39 scientists, scholars and engineers who provided a detailed plan in the March 30 issue of the journal Systematics and Biodiversity to chart 10 million species in less than 50 years, and called it a necessary step to sustain the planet’s biodiversity.

Source: Arizona State University
Image Credit: Composite by Sara Pennak/International Institute for Species Exploration/Arizona State University

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