Titanic-eating bacteria, a jumping cockroach, the king of the leeches and a fish that looks like a pancake.
These are just a few of the diverse creatures voted into the top ten list of new species discovered in 2010.
The list was decided by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of taxonomists from around the world.
The species span the globe in distribution, and vary from microscopic bacteria to a two-metre long lizard.
ASU entomologist Quentin Wheeler says the list draws attention to the amount of work required in the field of species identification.
“We can only realistically aspire to sustainable biodiversity if we first learn what species exist to begin with,“ he said.
“Our best guess is that all species discovered since 1758 represent less than 20% of the kinds of plants and animals inhabiting planet Earth. A reasonable estimate is that 10 million species remain to be described, named, and classified before the diversity and complexity of the biosphere is understood”
“It is in our own self-interest as we face the challenges of living on a rapidly changing planet that we understand the origin and 3.8 billion year history of evolution.”
The Top Ten
Darwin’s bark spider
How it made the Top Ten: This orb-weaving spider builds the largest orb-style webs known to science. Webs of this species have been found spanning rivers, streams and lakes with “bridgelines” reaching up to 25m in length and total web size reaching up to 2.8m2. The silk spun by these spiders has an average toughness of 250MJ/m3 with the highest measured at 520MJ/ m3. This makes it “the toughest biological material ever studied, over ten times stronger than a similarly-sized piece of Kevlar” and more than two times stronger than any other known spider silk. The unusual behaviors of this new species will allow us to understand size dimorphism, mate guarding, and self castration (among others).
Eternal light mushroom
How it made the Top Ten: This new species, collected from some of the last remaining Atlantic forest habitat near São Paulo, Brazil, emits very bright yellowish green light 24 hours per day from its gel-covered stems. DNA sequences of this species from five gene regions are helping us understand the origin and evolution of bioluminescence in the fungi. Of the estimated 1.5 million species of fungi on earth, only 71 species are known to be bioluminescence and Mycena luxaeterna is one of the most visually striking species.
How it made the Top Ten: This new species of iron-oxide consuming bacteria was discovered on a rusticle from the RMS Titanic. Studies show that it sticks to steel surfaces creating knob-like mounds of corrosion products that have contributed, along with other microorganisms, to the deterioration process of the Titanic’s metal. This will eventually lead to the Titanic’s disappearance. This bacterium could be useful to perform studies related to the disposal of old naval and merchant ships that have sunk in the deep ocean.
Sierra Madre Forest Monitor
How it made the Top Ten: This large arboreal frugivorous lizard of the genus Varanus can only be found in the Northern Sierra Madre Forest, Luzon Island, Philippines. The forest monitor lizard can grow to more than two metres in length but weighs only about ten kilograms. It is brightly coloured with stripes of gold flecks. Its scaly body and legs are a blue-black mottled with pale yellow-green dots and its tail is marked in alternating segments of black and green. It is quite astounding to think that something this size has eluded biologists that surveyed the area possibly because it spent most of its time in trees. However, it was known to the local hunters and is already a flagship for conservation in the Philippines.
How it made the Top Ten: This species is the only pollinator of the rare/endangered orchid Angraecum cadetii on Réunion island (South Western Indian Ocean), representing the first clearly-supported case of orthopteran-mediated pollination in flowering plants.
How it made the Top Ten: This new duiker from West Africa was first encountered at a bushmeat market. It is a surprising find because “The discovery of a new species from a well-studied group of animals in the context of bushmeat exploitation is a sobering reminder of the mammalian species that remain to be described, even within those that are being exploited on a daily basis for food or ritual activities.” The taxonomic description of Philantomba walteri should facilitate research into its ecology and behaviour, as well as its conservation.
How it made the Top Ten: This T. rex leech was discovered feeding from the nasal mucous membrane of a little girl in Perú. Its name, Tyrannobdella rex, means “tyrant leech king.” It is unusual because it is the only known species of leech with a “single armed jaw with such large teeth.”
How it made the Top Ten: This is the first report of a mushroom species fruiting underwater.
How it made the Top Ten: This new species of cockroach exhibits unusual morphology. It has legs that are highly modified for jumping. Prior to its discovery jumping cockroaches were only known from the Late Jurassic period. This extant cockroach has jumping ability that is on par with grasshoppers. In addition to the leg modifications, it has hemispherical shaped eyes that protrude from the sides of the head instead of kidney shaped and the antennae have an additional fixation point to help stabilise them during jumping.
Louisiana Pancake Batfish
How it made the Top Ten: This species was discovered just before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 and its entire known distribution is in the region of the spill. It is also a remarkably hideous (in a good way) animal. It is flat like a pancake, spiky, hops on its fins and has huge bulging eyes.
Image text courtesy of the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.
See an expert’s reaction to this list here.