News / Science & Technology

Top 10 New Species Identified

List focuses on threats to biodiversity

The Sneezing monkey from Myanmar, sneezes when it rains. (Photo: Thomas Geissmann / Fauna & Flora International)
The Sneezing monkey from Myanmar, sneezes when it rains. (Photo: Thomas Geissmann / Fauna & Flora International)
Rosanne Skirble
What do a jelly fish that looks like a box kite, a parasitic wasp that lays her eggs in ants and a night-blooming orchid have in common?

They're among the newly discovered species described in 2011 and singled out for the annual Top Ten New Species List by an international team of experts.

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University publishes the annual list. Director Quentin Wheeler says it helps put in focus the threats to biodiversity around the planet. 

“We know that habitats are being altered and lost at a significant pace. But, until we complete an inventory of species and map their distribution in the biosphere, we simply won’t have an empirical basis on which to really know when the alarm bells go off.”

 The Institute’s global sampling of new species includes a sponge-like mushroom from the island of Borneo, a 1.5 meter-tall yellow poppy that grows at high elevations in Nepal, an iridescent hairy blue tarantula from Brazil and a giant millipede from Tanzania. 
  • Crurifarcimen vagans. Common Name: Wandering Leg Sausage. This species from Tanzania’s Eastern Arch Mountains  holds a new record as the largest millipede, 16 centimeters. (Photo: G. Brovad)
  • Spongiforma squarepantsii. Common Name: Spongebob Squarepants Mushroom. Named after the cartoon character, the new fungi species discovered on the island of Borneo can be squeezed like a sponge and bounce back to its normal size and shape. (Photo: Tom Bur
  • Tamoya ohboya. Common Name: Bonaire Banded Box Jelly. This venomous jellyfish spotted near the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire looks like a box kite with colorful, long tails. (Photo: Ned DeLoach)
  • Kollasmosoma sentum. Common Name: Dive-bombing Wasps. This parasitic wasp from Spain is like a tiny dive bomber that lays her eggs in ants. (Photo: C. van Achterberg)
  • Rhinopithecus strykeri. Common Name: Sneezing Monkey. The Sneezing monkey from Myanmar, sneezes when it rains, and is believed to be critically endangered. (Photo: Thomas Geissmann / Fauna & Flora International)
  • Diania cactiformis. Common Name: Walking Cactus. This fossil, discovered in China, looks more like a “walking cactus” than an animal, but belongs to an extinct group with wormlike bodies and multiple pairs of legs. (Photo: Gianni Liu)
  • Bulbophyllum nocturnum. Common Name: Night-blooming Orchid. This rare orchid from Papua New Guinea is believed to be the only night bloomer among the 25,000 known species of orchids.(Photo: Andre Schuiteman)
  • Pterinopelma sazimai. Common Name: Sazima’s Tarantula. This hairy blue tarantula is a beauty from Brazil. (Photo: Rogerio Bertani/Instituto Butantan)
  • Halicephalobus mephisto. Common Name: Devil’s Worm. These tiny nematodes discovered in a South African gold mine are the deepest-living multicellular organisms on the planet. (Photo: G. Borgonie, Ghent University, Belgium)
  • Meconopsis autumnalis. Common Name: Nepalese Autumn Poppy. This rare poppy is found between 3,000 and 4,000 meters in the mountains of Nepal. (Photo: Paul Egan)

Wheeler says one of the most interesting species listed in 2012 is the so-called Devil’s worm from South Africa. “It showed up in a bore hole in a very deep mine, almost a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep. And no one had any idea that a multicellular organism might be living down there.”

Only a couple of dozen mammals are described each year. Included  is a sneezing monkey with black fur and a white beard, found, Wheeler says, by scientists conducting a survey of gibbons in the mountains of Myanmar. 

“And sure enough, if you go out in the rain you can hear these poor guys sneezing.  They have a very open nasal cavity.  So rain gets in there very easily and prompts them to sneeze.  And reportedly they sit in the rain and tuck their head down between their knees, trying to protect that.”

Since the early 18th century, when a system was devised to categorize all known varieties of plants and animals, about two million species have been named, described and classified.  18,000 are added each year.  Wheeler says, while that may seem a lot, there may be as many 10 million additional species of plants and animals awaiting discovery.

Wheeler says baseline data is needed to monitor and respond to changes in biodiversity. He adds that scientists have only begun to scratch the surface to understand the many ways organisms can adapt to their environment. 

“And by studying their adaptations we get so many clever ideas for design and for engineering our way through sustainable solutions to the environmental problems we face. To truly understand our place in the natural world we really need to study all of our relatives and get the big picture of evolution.”
Wheeler is one of an international team of scientists, engineers and scholars that has designed a plan that would use powerful computers to catalog 10 million species over the next 50 years.  He says the  project is a necessary step to sustain the planet's biodiveristy.

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