The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of scientists from around the world announced their picks for the top 10 new species described in 2011.
This is the fifth year for the top 10 new species list, released May 23 to coincide with the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who was responsible for the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications.
Selected from the hundreds of nominations submitted, the Top 10 list celebrates species exploration, biodiversity and the science of taxonomy. This year’s picks represent treasures from around the globe, from the deepest mines in Africa to the mountain heights of the Himalayas.
“The Top 10 is intended to bring attention to the biodiversity crisis and the unsung species explorers and museums who continue a 250-year tradition of discovering and describing the millions of kinds of plants, animals and microbes with whom we share this planet,” said Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist who directs the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU.
Members of the international committee who made their selection from more than 200 nominations look for “species that capture our attention because they are unusual or because they have traits that are bizarre,” said Mary Liz Jameson, an associate professor at Wichita State University who chaired the international selection committee. “Some of the new species have interesting names; some highlight what little we really know about our planet,” she said.
Rhinopithecus strykeri, named in honor of Jon Stryker, president and founder of the Arcus Foundation, is the first snub-nosed monkey to be reported from Myanmar and is believed to be critically endangered. It is distinctive for its mostly black fur and white beard and for sneezing when it rains. Since 2000, the number of mammals discovered each year averages about 36.
Bonaire Banded Box Jelly
This beautiful yet venomous jellyfish looks like a box kite with colorful, long tails. The species name, Tamoya ohboya, was selected by a teacher as part of a citizen science project, assuming that people who are stung exclaim, “Oh boy!”
Measuring about 0.5 mm (.02 in) these tiny nematodes were discovered at a depth of 1.3 km (.8 mi) in a South African gold mine are the deepest-living terrestrial multicellular organisms on the planet. The name Halicephalobus mephisto refers to Faust’s legend of the devil because has survived immense underground pressure as well as high temperatures (37 degrees C or 98.6 degrees F). According to its discoverers, carbon dating indicated that the borehole water where this species lives had not been in contact with Earth’s atmosphere for the last 4,000 to 6,000 years.
This rare orchid from Papua New Guinea flowers around 10 at night and close early the next morning. It was described by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Leiden University, who named it Bulbophyllum nocturnum from the Latin word meaning “at night.” It is believed to be the first night-blooming orchid recorded among the more than 25,000 known species of orchids.
This new species of parasitic wasp, named Kollasmosoma sentum, cruises at just one centimeter (less than half an inch) above the ground in Madrid, Spain, in search of its target: ants. With a target in sight, the teensy wasp attacks from the air like a tiny dive bomber, depositing an egg in less than 1/20 of a second.
SpongeBob SquarePants Mushroom
Named Spongiforma squarepantsii, after the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, this new fungus smells fruity and looks more like a sponge than a typical mushroom. Discovered in forests on the island of Borneo in Malaysia, its fruiting body can be squeezed like a sponge and bounce back to its normal size and shape.
Nepalese Autumn Poppy
This vibrant, tall, yellow poppy found in Nepal may have gone undescribed because of its high mountain habitat (10,827 to 13,780 feet). Named Meconopsis autumnalis for the autumn season when the plant flowers, there is evidence that the species was collected before but not recognized as new until intrepid botanists miles from human habitation in heavy monsoon rains made the “rediscovery.”
A giant millipede about the length of a sausage bears the common name “wandering leg sausage,” which also is at the root of its Latin name: Crurifarcimen vagans. The species is the largest millipede (16 cm or about 6.3 in) found in Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The new species is about 1.5 centimeter (0.6 inch) in diameter with 56 segments bearing ambulatory limbs, each with two pairs of legs.
Walking Cactus (lobopod fossil)
Although this new species looks more like a “walking cactus” than an animal at first glance, Diania cactiformis belongs to an extinct group called the armoured Lobopodia, which had a wormlike body and multiple pairs of legs. The fossil, discovered in Cambrian deposits about 520 million years old in southwestern China it is remarkable for its segmented legs that suggest a common ancestry with arthropods, including insects and spiders.
Breathtakingly beautiful, this iridescent hairy blue tarantula is the first new animal species from Brazil to be named on the top 10 list. Pterinopelma sazimai is not the first or only blue tarantula, but it is spectacular — and from “island” ecosystems on flattop mountains.
The International Institute for Species Exploration also publishes an annual State of Observed Species (SOS) report on human knowledge of Earth’s species. The latest report was released January 18 and is available online.