News / Science & Technology

    New Species Identified in 2014

    An "olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina)," described as the first carnivore species to be discovered in the American continents in 35 years, is pictured in a cloud forest in South America.
    An "olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina)," described as the first carnivore species to be discovered in the American continents in 35 years, is pictured in a cloud forest in South America.
    Rosanne Skirble
    What do a 12 - meter- tall tree hiding in plain sight, a clean-room microbe that could pose a hazard during space travel and a sea anemone that lives under an Antarctic glacier have in common?  They are all on the 2014 Top 10 New Species list, compiled by the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE).  IISE hopes to raise public awareness of the rich, diverse planet we inhabit.

    Quentin Wheeler wants to draw your attention to the diversity of life on Earth.  

    “I think most people would be surprised to learn that, on average, we describe about 17,000 and 18,000 new species each year," said Wheeler.
    • Tinkerbella nana, named for Peter Pan's fairy sidekick, measures just 250 micrometers and is among the smallest insects. It was collected by sweeping vegetation in secondary growth forest at LaSelva Biological Station in Costa Rica. Like other fairyflies, it presumably has a life span of not more than a few days and attacks the eggs of other insects. (Jennifer Read)
    • Living in complete darkness some 900-plus meters below the surface in the Lukina Jama-Trojama caves of western Croatia, the domed land snail lacks eyes, and has no shell pigmentation, giving it a ghost-like appearance. Even by snail standards, it moves slowly, creeping only a few millimeters or centimeters a week. (Jana Bedek)
    • Found in rooms where spacecraft are assembled, this microbial species could potentially contaminate other planets that the spacecraft visit. It can tolerate extreme dryness; wide ranges of pH, temperature and salt concentration; and exposure to UV light or hydrogen peroxide. It was independently collected from so-called clean rooms in Florida and 4000 km away, in French Guiana. (Leibniz-Insitute DSMZ and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology)
    • This 4-5 cm single-celled amoeba from the Mediterranean Sea gathers pieces of silica spicules, which are actually sponge fragments, from its surroundings and uses them like so many Lego blocks to construct a shell. It ends up looking much like a carnivorous sponge as well as feeding like one. (Manuel Maldonado)
    • With longer limbs, a more slender body and larger eyes than others of its species, the leaf-tailed gecko has a mottled coloration along with its extremely wide tail that allows it to blend in with its surroundings. Native to rain forests and rocky habitats in Australia, this gecko waits for prey on the vertical surfaces of rocks and trees. (Conrad Hoskin)
    • Distinguished by the bright orange color it displays when produced in colonies, this fungus – described in a Dutch journal - was named as a tribute to the Dutch royal family, specifically His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange. The newcomer was isolated from soil in Tunisia. (Cobus M. Visagie)
    • The skeleton shrimp, the smallest in the genus, was identified from among specimens originally collected from a cave on an island off the coast of Southern California. The new species has an eerie, translucent appearance that makes it resemble a bony structure. (SINC)
    • It is not clear how the ANDRILL sea anemone withstands the harsh conditions under a glacier on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. The 2.5 centimeter creatures were discovered when the Antarctic Geological Drilling Program (ANDRILL) sent a remotely operated submersible vehicle into holes that had been drilled into the ice. (SCINI/Marymegan Daly)
    • Beautiful, soft, sword-shaped leaves with white edges and cream-colored flowers with bright orange filaments are the hallmarks of the dragon tree, which can grow to 12 meters in height. It is found in the limestone mountains of Thailand and may also be found in nearby Burma. (Paul Wilkin)
    • The olinguito resembles a cross between a slinky cat and a wide-eyed teddy bear, and lives in the cloud forests of the Andes mountains in Colombia and Ecuador. It is the first new carnivorous mammal described in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years. (Mark Gurney/ CC BY 3.0)
    Wheeler is director of the International Institute for Species Exploration, which publishes the annual survey.  

    “In the 250 years that modern taxonomy has been practiced, we have named fewer than two million of an estimated 10-12 million kinds of plants and animals," he said.

    He notes that species are going extinct at least as fast as they are being discovered, which adds urgency to the task of naming.  

    “…to explore the flora and fauna and make a first pass inventory so that we can make the best conservation priorities moving forward and assure that as much biodiversity is sustained as possible," said Wheeler.

    The institute’s planet-wide sampling this year includes a mammal from Ecuador that looks like a cross between a slinky cat and a wide-eyed teddy bear, the Dragon Tree from Thailand with soft, sword-shaped leaves and cream colored flowers, and a sea anemone living under a glacier in Antarctica.    

    “The anemone’s body is literally embedded in solid ice with its tentacles dangling below into the frigid water and the only way this was seen was by drilling through the ice shelf and then sending down remotely operated submersible little devices that have cameras and could actually explore," he said.

    Other creatures new in 2014:  A translucent snail from one of the earth’s deepest caves, a tiny see through shrimp and a miniscule wasp with fringed wings.  

    A new microbe among the top 10 is shrouded in mystery. It turned up in the specially-controlled filtered environment of two rooms where spacecraft are assembled. The so-called clean rooms were some 4,000 kilometers apart.

    “…one [clean-room] in French Guiana and one in Florida. And we obviously need to know about them so that we can prevent giving them an outbound ride and contaminating some other sphere that we are visiting in the solar system on the one hand and on the other, it gives us a better idea of the full range of life that we should be looking for on other planets," he said.

    Wheeler says each of the 10 million or so new species waiting to be discovered is a piece of Earth’s history and must be documented. He says a baseline of flora and fauna is doable within a few decades, but requires commitment from decision-makers and the public to make it happen.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora