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.

You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs