The amazing biodiversity of our planet is under threat. That’s a plain and simple fact. While governments struggle to bring economic policies into line with what is also good for our planet, it is sometimes heartening to see the work that is done to protect and catalogue the wildlife of our blue planet.
Published by the International Institute for Species Exploration here is the list of the top 10 new species for this year. Many of these animals are critically endangered themselves but by highlighting their existence perhaps they can get a measure of protection as well.
1. Sneezing Monkey - Rhinopithecus strykeri
This primate was discovered in the high mountains of Myanmar. Its distinctive upturned nose means that when it rains it sneezes to keep the water out, although it spends most of its time with its head between its legs to try to prevent water getting up there in the first place. Another striking feature is its mostly black fur with a white beard. As the average number of species discovered every year is less than 50 a new primate is certainly nothing to be sniffed at.
2. Bonaire Banded Box Jelly - Tamoya ohboya
This box jelly was sighted many times from 2001 onwards but a specimen wasn’t taken until 2008 and the species only described last year. It is a beautiful but highly venomous jelly with striking coloured bands. Its name was chosen in an online competition; apparently it comes from the exclamation ‘Oh Boy!’ that one might make on spotting one. I can think of what I’d say but it’s not printable here.
3. Devil’s Worm - Halicephalobus mephisto
Measuring only 0.5mm this nematode is the deepest living multi-celled organism ever found. It is remarkable due to the immense pressures and high temperatures it can live at. Although it is nothing amazing to look at this worm could be significant in searching for life in the subterranean depths of other bodies in the Solar System.
4. Night Blooming Orchid - Bulbophyllum nocturnum
This new species gets to number 4 in the list by virtue of the fact that it is the first night-blooming orchid that has been described among the more than 25,000 known species of orchids. Its strange thin looking flowers start to open around 10pm and last for 12 hours or so. This species has been described from just a single plant and is most likely already endangered by logging practices in New Guinea where it was found.
5. Parisitoid Wasp - Kollasmosoma sentum
This tiny parasitic wasp flies just barely off the ground as it searches for its target. When it finds a potential host ant it dives in and deposits an egg in an attack that lasts about 1/20th of a second. When the eggs hatch the ant is turned into food for the wasp larvae. This lightning attack has been caught on video that you can see on YouTube. If the ants become aware of the wasp then they can defend themselves by waving a leg or turning their mandibles to face the wasp.
6. Spongebob Squarepants Mushroom - Spongiforma squarepantsii
This new fungus proves that scientists do have a sense of humour. The structure of the fruiting body of this organism not only resembles the cartoon character after which it’s named but it will also spring back into shape if you squash it. It is only the 2nd species of the Spongiforma genus to be described and its shape is unlike anything else known. Even the microscopic spores of the fungus resemble sponges.
7. Nepalese Autumn Poppy - Meconopsis autumnalis
Somehow this large and vibrantly coloured poppy has remained unknown to science until now. This can only be attributed to the extreme environment that is its habitat, at an elevation of more than 11,000ft in central Nepal. Specimens had also been collected twice before but never recognised as a new species. All this is evidence that there are not enough botanists to cover these extreme environments and catalogue all of the species in these ecosystems.
8. Wandering Leg Sausage - Crurifarcimen vagans
Another fantastic piece of species naming here I think. This millipede is not quite up to the size of the giant African millipede but at 16cm in length and 1.5cm in diameter it is the largest millipede in Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains, a biodiversity hotspot.
9. Walking Cactus - Diania cactiformis
I’m not sure of the validity of putting an extinct animal into this list but is definitely a strange looking creature. It belongs to a now extinct group called the armoured Lobopodia that had wormlike bodies and multiple legs. What makes this species significant is its jointed legs that lend weight to the evolutionary theory that arthropods evolved from lobopodian ancestors. Indeed this species may share a more recent common ancestor with arthropods than with other lobopodians!
10. Sazima’s Tarantula - Pterinopelma sazimai
This iridescent blue tarantula is absolutely gorgeous and is also the only animal from Brazil, the most biologically diverse nation on Earth, to make it into the top 10. This is not the first blue tarantula to be described, but may be more at risk due to its habitat being an ‘ecological island’ – a habitat high upon tabletop mountains which are significantly different from the surrounding area.
There you have it, a top 10 of species discovery for the past year. If this list gives you pause for thought on what we can do to keep such amazing diversity on our planet that can only be a good thing.