May 25, 2012
-- We may live on a single planet, but we are far from discovering all the life that thrives here. In fact, new species are discovered nearly every day. The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of scientists from around the world recently announced their picks for the top 10 new species. All were discovered in 2011. "The Top 10 is a reminder of the wonders still to be discovered on Earth," Quentin Wheeler, a member of the institute and an ASU professor, told Discovery News. "Five out of every six living species remain unknown to science, a condition that limits our ability to monitor and respond to losses in biodiversity and diminishes our ability to trace our origins from the beginning of life through amazing and improbable evolutionary pathways to ourselves." The first species on the list is this sneezing monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri), so named because tends to sneeze when it rains. It is the first snub-nosed monkey to be reported from Myanmar.
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Bonaire Banded Box Jelly "This year's discoverers are explorers in the greatest sense of the word -- they have plumbed the depths of the oceans, peered into unusual habitats in their own backyards, traveled into wild and isolated areas, and they have touched parts of the Earth that few people on our planet have," Mary Liz Jameson, an associate professor at Wichita State University who chaired the international selection committee, told Discovery News. This venomous jellyfish, Tamoya ohboya, looks like a box kite with colorful, long tails. The species was spotted near the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire. Note the latter part of its Latin name -- ohboya -- suggesting the exclamation that scientists made when they saw this species.
Devil's Worm Measuring about .02 inches, these tiny nematodes are the deepest-living terrestrial multicellular organisms on the planet. They were discovered at a depth of 8/10 mile in a South African gold mine and given the name Halicephalobus mephisto in reference to the Faust legend of the devil because the new species is found at such a depth in the Earth's crust and has survived immense underground pressure as well as high temperatures (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). According to its discoverers, carbon dating indicated that the borehole water where this species lives had not been in contact with Earth's atmosphere for the last 4,000 to 6,000 years. Wheeler said, "The discovery of a round worm living nearly a mile beneath the surface in South Africa combines with deep sea vent communities and fungal spores circling the earth at 10,000 feet altitude combine to tell us that the biosphere is thicker and far more complex than we might have imagined and a siren call to scientists to get busy exploring it."
Night-Blooming Orchid This rare orchid (Bulbophyllum nocturnum) from Papua New Guinea has flowers that open around 10 at night and close early the next morning. It is believed to be the first night-blooming orchid recorded among the more than 25,000 known species of orchids.
Wasp This new species of parasitic wasp (Kollasmosoma sentum) cruises at less than half an inch above the ground in Madrid, Spain in search of its prey: ants. With dinner in sight, the small wasp attacks from the air like a tiny dive-bomber, depositing an egg in less than 1/20th of a second. After viewing this feat, Wheeler said, it's "a testament to the creativity of natural selection and perhaps a partial accounting for the nervous behavior of ants."
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Spongebob Squarepants Mushrom Named Spongiforma squarepantsii, after the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, this new fungus species looks more like a sponge than a typical mushroom. One of its characteristics is that its fruiting body can be squeezed like a sponge and bounce back to its normal size and shape. This fungus, which smells fruity, was discovered in forests on the island of Borneo in Malaysia.
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Poppy This tall, yellow poppy, found in Nepal, may have gone undescribed for so many years because of its high mountain habitat (10,827 to 13,780 feet). Named Meconopsis autumnalis for the autumn season when the plant flowers, there is evidence that this species was collected before, but not recognized as new until intrepid botanists collecting plants miles from human habitation in heavy monsoon rains made the rediscovery.
Wandering Leg Sausage A giant millipede about the length of a sausage bears the common name "wandering leg sausage." The species (Crurifarcimen vagans) holds a new record as the largest millipede (about 6.3 inches) found in one of the world's biodiversity hotspots, Tanzania's Eastern Arc Mountains. The new species is about 0.6 inch in diameter with 56 more or less podous rings, or body segments, bearing ambulatory limbs. Each of these segments has two pairs of legs.
Walking Cactus Although this new species looks more like a "walking cactus" than an animal at first glance, Diania cactiformis belongs to an extinct group called the armored Lobopodia, which had worm-like bodies and multiple pairs of legs. The fossil was discovered in Cambrian deposits about 520 million years old from southwestern China. Its segmented legs may indicate a common ancestry with arthropods, including insects and spiders.
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Sazima's Tarantula This iridescent hairy blue tarantula caps off the list. It is the only new animal species from Brazil to make the top ten. Pterinopelma sazimai is also the first known blue tarantula. It lives in so-called "island" ecosystems on flattop mountains. Jameson concluded, "We hope that the top 10 species sets you on your own explorations. It's quite possible that you can make new discoveries even in your own backyard!"
PHOTOS: Top 10 Species of 2011