Top 10 new species include a bizarre array of wonders
From a spectacularly weird anglerfish to the largest carnivorous sundew plant seen in the New World, this list of novel new species gives hope that all isn't lost.
While we humans are helping to make mincemeat of other species at a worrisome rate, it’s heartening to remember that there are new ones constantly being discovered. Although it’s a slippery number to confirm, scientists believe there are some 10 million species yet to be discovered, five times more than have already been identified. In 2015 alone, 18,000 new species were named during the course of the year.
Each year since 2008, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) has been giving a shout-out to the new discoveries with their top 10 list of species identified the previous year. The list is put together by an international committee of taxonomists from ESF's International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE).
"In the past half-century we have come to recognize that species are going extinct at an alarming rate. It is time that we accelerate species exploration, too. Knowledge of what species exist, where they live, and what they do will help mitigate the biodiversity crisis and archive evidence of the life on our planet that does disappear in the wild," says Dr. Quentin Wheeler, ESF president and founding director of the IISE.
This year’s list, as usual, reads as a riveting who’s who of the odd and wonderful. So without further ado, meet the new kids on the block:
A fish only a mother could love: Lasiognathus dinema© Theodore W. Pietsch, University of Washington/ESF Found in the Gulf of Mexico, what this diminutive new species (pictured top, detail above) lacks in size – it’s just shy of 2 inches (50 mm) – it makes up for in …. looks? Although ESF jokes that Lasiognathus dinema might be “angling for ugliest among the Top 10 New Species,” ugly is in the eye of the beholder; I think this guy looks totally badass. Various species of anglerfish are distinguished by the super curious structure that extends over their heads like a lantern. Called an esca, this organ struts up from the tip of a highly modified, elongated dorsal ray – the esca of some anglerfish host symbiotic bacteria that are bioluminescent, giving these creatures of the deep their own ersatz headlamps. Ugly? Pshaw.
Giant Sundew: Drosera magnifica© Paulo M. Gonella/ESF Discovered in Brazil, this is likely the first new species to be discovered thanks to … Facebook. A botanist saw a random photo on the social networking site and knew it was something special, and thus the identification of D. magnifica ensued. It is the largest sundew ever seen in the New World, growing to 48 inches (123 centimeters) in height. Sundews are carnivorous plants that capture delicious, unsuspecting, insects on their leaves with the aid of a sticky secretion, reminding one of built-in glue traps. Much like the teeth-baring plant recently discovered in the Andes, D. magnifica is a perfect muse for B-movie plotlines.
Ruby seadragon: Phyllopteryx dewysea© Josefin Stiller, Nerida Wilson, Greg Rouse/ESF Oh man do I love a seadragon, the weird fish-things that look like the impossible love child of a seahorse and a clump of seaweed. So far we’ve only known about common seadragons and weedy seadragons; P. dewysea marks the third species of this wonderful creature now known to us. Discovered in Australia, home to its two cousins, the new seadragon measure nearly 10 inches in length and is stunning with its striking ruby red color and lighter pink markings – it was named in honor of Mary "Dewy" Lowe for her love of, and commitment to, the study and conservation of seadragons.
As ESF asks: “If ruby red dragons nearly a foot long in shallow waters have escaped our attention, what else do we not yet know?” Right? See more photos of these beautifully unique creatures here: The surreal and show world of seadragons.
Giant tortoise: Chelonoidis donfaustoi© Washington Tapia/ESF Charles Darwin made the giant tortoises of Galapagos the poster children for evolution – and while small differences had been observed between eastern and western populations on Santa Cruz Island, they were thought to be nothing more than genetic variation within the known species, C. porteri. Now, after careful analysis of both genetic and morphological data, the smaller eastern population has been shown to be a distinct species. And there are only about 250 of them. The new guys and gals were named after a park ranger known as "Don Fausto," who worked 43 years to conserve the giant tortoises. “This discovery has immediate, important conservation implications,” notes ESF. “C. porteri has a more limited geographic range than previously believed, restricted to western and southwestern areas of the island, and care must be taken to avoid bridging the natural isolation of the two species.”
Unique flowering tree: Sirdavidia solannona© Thomas Couvreur/ESF A new tree, hurray! With an entirely new genus, named for Sir David Attenborough, this new species was discovered just off the main road in the well-studied Monts de Cristal National Park, in Gabon – which was the last place anyone expected to discover a new species. This tree is so different from related members of its family, Annonaceae, that is was given its very own genus. Its believed that the new tree is possible pollinated by “buzz pollination” – and when and if that is confirmed, it will be the first example of such in any early-diverged flowering plant, and an unexpected example of convergent reproductive evolution, notes ESF.
A new human relative! Homo naledi© John Hawks, Wits University/ESF Not all new species were just odd animals or cool plants, this one, H. naledi, comes from our very own genus. As I wrote when the news first broke, “Hailed as one of the greatest fossil discoveries of the past half century, Homo naledi could change our understanding of human evolution.” ESF writes:
Anatomical features of this new hominin found in South Africa are a mixture of those of Australopithecus with other Homospecies, combined with several features not known in any hominin species. Features shared with other Homo species include complex functional locomotion, manipulation and mastication systems. Similar in size and weight to a modern human, and with humanlike hands and feet, the new species has a braincase more similar in size to earlier ancestors living two million to four million years ago, as well as shoulders, pelvis, and ribcage more closely resembling earlier hominins than modern humans. The exact age of the remains, once determined, will have implications for the early history of our genus.
Nest-building isopod: Iuiuniscus iuiuensis© Souza, Ferreira & Senna/ESF Isopods, types of crustaceans found both in water and on land – think woodlice and pill-bugs – have a new “it” isopod by the name of Iuiuniscus iuiuensis. The blind, bland (as in unpigmented) and many-legged critter represents a new subfamily, genus, and species of amphibious isopod, was discovered in a South American cave. What makes this one different is that is builds spherical shelters of mud to protect it when itself when it molts, a time of particular vulnerability. Oh, and it’s spiny too!!
Paddington beetle: Phytotelmatrichis osopaddington© Michael Darby/ESF Named after the beloved fictional children’s hero, Paddington Bear, the new itty-bitty beetle also hails from Peru and was named in hope of bringing attention to the threatened Andean spectacled bear that served as muse for the Paddington books. Reaching only a teeny 1.03 to 1.06 mm in length, 25 of these featherwing beetles could fit head-to-tail, in an inch. This species was discovered in a puddle of water gathered in the leaf folds of a non-native, cultivated plant, making it a curiosity that has sparked much pondering about its food, breeding and native hosts.
New tiny old ape: Pliobates cataloniae© Artwork by Marta Palmero, Institut Catalá de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP)/ESF This small lady ape is really old, like, 11.6 million years. Nicknamed "Laia" by her discoverers, fragments of her remains were found in a dump in Spain and she has thrown a monkey wrench, so to speak, into assumptions about the origins of living apes, gibbons and humans. At only 9 to 11 pounds (4 to 5 kilograms) in weight and only 17 inches (43 centimeters) tall, Laia lived before the lineage containing humans and great apes had diverged from its sister branch, the gibbons, and she appears to be sister to the three combined, explains ESF. Her discovery suggests “greater morphological diversity existed at that time, in the Miocene, than previously thought, and raises the possibility that early humans could have been more closely related to gibbons than the great apes.”
Sparklewing damselfly: Umma gumma© Jens Kipping/ESF There were 60 new species of African damselflies and dragonflies reported in a single publication last year, the most for any single paper in more than a century and a “surprising leap forward in knowledge for one of the better-known insect orders,” says ESF. “Most of the new species are colorful and so distinct they are identifiable from photographs alone, emphasizing that not all unknown species are small, indistinct or cryptic in appearance or habits.” The genus name for the new damselfly is Umma, which inspired those charged with naming the species to go with Pink Floyd – the name of the band’s 1969 double album “Ummagumma” also stands in as a British slang term for sex. Saucy!
For more information on these awesome new additions to science, visit ESF.