The top 10 new species for 2014 has just been named by an international committee of taxonomists and other experts.
Announcement of the annual list, established in 2008, coincides with the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, an 18th century Swedish botanist who is considered to be the father of modern taxonomy.
One of the stars of the list is the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) from Ecuador, pictured above. It resembles a toy stuffed animal.
"From a scientific point of view, the olinguito is remarkable as the first carnivorous mammal discovered in the New World in 35 years -- and for having been seen but not recognized for what it was," said Quentin Wheeler, president of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, which spearheaded the list project. "Science aside, let’s face it; the olinguito has the cute factor."
Sounding like something out of Game of Thrones and towering over the landscape, Kaweesak’s dragon tree (Dracaena kaweesakii) amazingly went unnoticed until recently.
"If we did not know such a beautiful kind of tree, standing 40 feet tall, what else do we not know about the flora and fauna of Thailand?" Wheeler said. "This dragon tree stands as a testament to our ignorance of our world’s species."
It is not clear how the ANDRILL anemone (named after the Antarctic Geological Drilling Program) withstands the harsh conditions in its habitat. It's the first species of sea anemone reported to live in ice. The creatures, less than 1 inch long, bury their bodies in the ice shelf with their roughly two dozen tentacles dangling into the frigid water below.
“Living with its body embedded in ice, beneath a glacier, this amazing anemone informs us of a habitat we had not imagined,” Wheeler said. “Like Jeff Goldblum character’s line in 'Jurassic Park,' it is further proof that life does find a way.”
"The new skeleton shrimp (Liropus minusculus) is stunningly eerie in appearance and is a reminder of the unexpected and unusual beauty found in the vast world of invertebrate animals,” Wheeler said.
The shrimp, the smallest of its genus, was collected from a cave on the island of Santa Catalina, off the coast of Southern California. Females measure less than 1/10 of an inch long, and males are only slightly bigger, measuring an 1/8 of an inch long.
Distinguished by the bright orange color it displays when produced in colonies, this fungus, Orange penicillium, was named as a tribute to the Dutch royal family.
"Beyond the striking orange colonies this new fungus forms on agar plates, its name, in honor of the Prince of Orange, makes it a royal among molds," Wheeler said.
Another claim to fame is that the fungus produces a sheet-like structure that may help to protect it from drought.
It’s not easy to spot this gecko, Saltuarius eximius, which has an extremely wide tail that is employed as part of its camouflage.
“We are all aware of animals with adaptations that serve as camouflage, such as walking sticks, but the strangely enlarged tail of this gecko, combined with its coloration, confuses our preconceived image of a lizard,” Wheeler said.
Native to rain forests and rocky habitats, this gecko is a bit of a night owl. It's found on the vertical surfaces of rocks and trees as it waits for prey. Researchers didn't find more of this type of gecko in nearby, similar habitats, so this may be a rare species. The gecko was discovered on rocky terrain in isolated rain forests of the Melville Range of eastern Australia.
“I am awed by the complexity and improbability of this single-celled protest (Spiculosiphon oceana),” Wheeler said. “Its use of sponge spicules to build its shell is impressive, but its ability to use them to mimic a sponge’s feeding mode is astounding.”
The one-celled organism is 1.5 to 2 inches high, making it a giant in the world of single-celled creatures. To mimic a carnivorous sponge, it gathers sponge fragments as if they were Lego blocks to construct a shell.
The unusual species was discovered in underwater caves 30 miles off the southeast coast of Spain. Coincidence or not, they're the same caves where carnivorous sponges were first discovered.
Found in rooms where spacecraft are assembled, this microbial species, Tersicoccus phoenicis, could potentially contaminate other planets that the spacecraft visit. It's a species researchers want to avoid sending into space, but it could already inhabit other planets because it's so hearty.
Tersicoccus phoenicis was independently collected from the floors of two separate clean rooms 2,500 miles apart, one in Florida and one in French Guiana.
"Given the lengths to which spacecraft assembly facilities go to exclude and kill microbes, finding the same new species in two such rooms thousands of miles apart is truly impressive," Wheeler said. Such species also teach us the extreme conditions under which life might exist on other worlds."
The Tinkerbell fairyfly, Tinkerbella nana was found in a Costa Rican forest and measures just 0.00984 inches, making it one of the world’s smallest known insects.
“The reference to Tinkerbell is a perfect reminder of the existence of these remarkable parasitoids," Wheeler said. "Miniscule and delicate, these wisps of insects are nonetheless an evolutionary success story, with 1,400 species and counting, each attacking the tiny eggs of other insects.”
He continued, “I find it amazing that everything required to be a wasp could be packed into such a microscopic form. It is fantastically smaller than the one cell of the amoeboid protist also on this year’s list.”
Living in complete darkness, nearly 3,000 feet below the surface in the Lukina Jama-Trojama caves of western Croatia, is this eye-less snail, Zospeum tholussum. It also has no shell pigmentation, which gives it a ghost-like appearance.
Even by snail standards, Zospeum tholossum moves slowly, creeping well less than an inch a week. Researchers suspect these small snails, measuring only 0.08 inch long, travel in water currents or hitchhike on other cave animals, such as bats or crickets, to travel longer distances.
“Living about 3,000 feet below the surface in a cave, this little snail forces us to see just how big the biosphere is," Wheeler said. "From fungal spores carried in currents thousands of feet above us to animals like this one found thousands of feet below, we must conclude the biosphere is not a thin veil of life, but a complex life zone miles thick.”