Taking a cue from Letterman, a committee of taxonomists has issued a 2011 top-10 list of coolest new species discovered last year. They include … a leech with huge teeth, an iron-oxide-eating bacterium on the wreck of RMS Titanic, a flat-as-a-pancake batfish, glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, a high-jumping cockroach, a six-and-a half foot long fruit-eating lizard, a cricket that only pollinates a rare orchid species, underwater mushrooms, a spider that builds enormous webs, and a new duiker (antelope-like animal) species first discovered at a bushmeat market in West Africa.
Since 2008, the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) at Arizona State University has issued their top 10 list on May 23rd, the birthday of Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who created the modern taxonomic system used for classifying and naming plants and animals. And it’s an excuse to have a little fun while promoting the wonder of Earth’s biodiversity.
Quentin Wheeler, entomologist and director of IISE, remarked in a press release.
At the same time that astronomers search for Earth-like planets in visible space, taxonomists are busily exploring the life forms of the most Earth-like planet of all, our own.
We can only realistically aspire to sustainable biodiversity if we first learn what species exist to begin with. Our best guess is that all species discovered since 1758 represent less than 20 percent 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.
And here they are, in no particular order of coolness, the top 10 new species of 2010!
This amazing orb-weaving spider of Madagascar spins webs spanning streams, rivers, and lakes. One jaw-dropper of a web was found stretched 82 feet across a river, with at least 30 insects tangled inside it. If that’s not enough to impress, the silk spun by this stately arachnid is twice as strong as any other known spider silk, and 10 times stronger than a comparably-sized strand of Kevlar.
Measuring just 2 inches in length, T. rex packs a mean bite with its single jaw and big teeth. Even though this creature new to science was described in 2010, it was first encountered by doctors in 1997, in Peru, inside the nose of a young boy who had taken a dip in an Amazonian stream. It’s one of 600 to 700 described leech species but there could be as many as 10,000 across the world.
It was an unexpected find at the most famous shipwreck in the world, made by scientists at Dalhousie University in Canada and the University of Sevilla in Spain. At a frigid depth of 12,500 feet, on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, this bacterium consumes oxidized iron in wreckage of the RMS Titanic, leaving behind “rusticles,” knobs of corrosion material.
These enchanting little mushrooms, with caps just 2 cm across, have gel-covered stems that constantly emit a bright yellowish-green glow. It’s a luminescent fungus found growing on sticks in Atlantic forest at São Paulo, Brazil. It was named “eternal light,” after a movement in Mozart’s “Requiem,” by San Francisco State University biology professor Dennis Desjardin and his colleagues. Desjardin, who has discovered over 200 new species of fungi says there could be about 1.5 million fungi species on the planet. So far, only 71 of them are known to be bioluminescent .
Jumping cockroaches were once known from late-Jurassic-period fossils. If you’re roachaphobic like me, and thought they were long gone, bad new: a similar type of high-jumping roach was discovered in 2010 at the Silvermine Nature Reserve, part of Table Mountain National Park, in South Africa. These “leaproaches” jump as good as grasshoppers, and they’re described as having “hemispherical shaped eyes, rather than kidney shaped eyes, which protrude from the sides of the head, and its antennae have an additional fixation point to help stabilize it during jumping.” So, the question is, are they really from this planet?
Measuring a grand 6 feet 6 inches in length, but weighing just 22 pounds, this fruit-eating monitor lizard hails from the Northern Sierra Madre Forest on Luzon Island in the Philippines. Its scaly body and legs are festively adorned in mottled blue-black and pale yellow-green dots, with stripes of gold flecks, complemented by a striking tail with alternating black and green segment. This fashionable tree-dweller has gained fame as a symbol of species conservation in the Philippines.
The first encounter with this new duiker species, a kind of small antelope, from West Africa, was at a bushmeat market. In describing the species in ZooTaxa, Marc Colyn from the University of Rennes, France, wrote:
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.
It’s a certain rare orchid’s best friend. This newly-discovered cricket species is the only known pollinator of Angraecum cadetii, a rare endangered orchid at the Réunion in the Mascarene Archipelago, in the Indian Ocean. It belongs to a cricket sub-family that makes a raspy sound, and is the first known case of an insect from the Orthoptera order, that includes grasshoppers, crickets and locusts, to regularly pollinate a flowering plant.
Mushroom nuts like me are really excited about this one! It’s a species of gilled mushroom from northwestern US, found in the upper Rogue River of Oregon. This unique aquatic fungi was observed, for over 11 weeks, fruiting in clear, cold, flowing waters. Could there be more like it, waiting to be discovered? Mushroom foraging has entered a new era of underwater hunting!
The bottom-dwelling pancake batfish is not the vision of grace in motion: when it moves, it looks like a walking bat that hops about the seafloor on thick arm-like fins. Much of the species’s habitat was, sadly, impacted by the 2010 Guif oil spill. John Sparks, curator of ichthyology at the American Museum of Natural History, and one of the scientists that reported the discovery of this unusual fish, said:
if we are still finding new species of fishes in the Gulf, imagine how much diversity, especially microdiversity, is out there that we do not know about.
So, there you have it, a sampling of some species discovered in 2010: a Madagascan spider that spins huge webs, a little leech with a fondness for mucosal membrances of the nose, a rust-eating bacterium that’s consuming the Titanic, a mushroom that emits a ghostly yellowish-green glow, a high-jumping South African cockroach, a big fruit-eating monitor lizard in the Philippines, a new duiker from West Africa that was first found at a meat market, a cricket that’s the only pollinator of a rare orchid, an underwater mushroom, and Louisiana pancake batfish that lives in the Gulf of Mexico.
Shireen Gonzaga is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about natural history. She is also a technical editor at an astronomical observatory where she works on documentation for astronomers. Shireen has many interests and hobbies related to the natural world. She lives in Cockeysville, Maryland.