An array of weird and wonderful new-to-science animals, plants and microbes take the prize in this year's list of top new species.
With so many of the planet's amazing organisms falling victim to extinction – thanks, humans! – it's heartening to see that new species continue to be discovered. Which makes sense, given that we really know so little about all the living things out there, but still. What a wonderful world, despite its problems.
It is these previously unknown-to-science species that star in each year's Top New Species list created by the College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). This year marks the 11th for the list, which is compiled by ESF's International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE). The institute's international committee of taxonomists chooses the Top 10 from the new species named the previous year.
"I'm constantly amazed at how many new species show up and the range of things that are discovered," says ESF President Quentin Wheeler, the founding director of the IISE.
Here are the new kids on the block, in alphabetical order
1. Protist with a twist: Ancoracysta twista
© Denis V. Tiknonenkov
This curious little single-celled protist has challenged scientists to determine its nearest relatives. "It does not fit neatly within any known group and appears to be a previously undiscovered, early lineage of Eukaryota with a uniquely rich mitochondrial genome," notes ESF. And the little guy has a special talent; it uses its whip-like flagella to propel itself and then employs its unusual harpoon-like organelles to immobilize other protists for dinner.
2. Lonely tree: Dinizia jueirana-facao
Found in Brazil, this beauty of a tree reaches heights of up to 130 feet (40 m), towering above the canopy of the semi-deciduous, riparian, pristine Atlantic forest where it lives. The woody fruits shown above are about 18 inches (0.5 m) in length. Amazingly, D. jueirana-facao
is known only from within and just beyond the boundaries of the Reserva Natural Vale in northern Espirito Santo, Brazil – and there are only 25 of them known.
3. Hunched amphipod: Epimeria quasimodo
© Cédric d’Udekem d’Acoz/Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
The amphipod of Notre Dame? Named after Victor Hugo's character, Quasimodo, these 2-inch long amphipods can be found in the Antarctic Ocean. "It is one of 26 new species of amphipods of the genus Epimeria from the Southern Ocean with incredible spines and vivid colors. The number of species, and their extraordinary morphological structures and colors, makes the genus Epimeria an icon of the Southern Ocean that includes both free-swimming predators and sessile filter feeders," writes ESF.
4. Tricky beetle: Nymphister kronaueri
© D. Kronauer
What a clever little beetle. Found in Costa Rica living amongst the ants, these tiny creatures live exclusively with a species of nomadic army ants. Since the ants travel and camp out for a few weeks before their next move, N. kronaueri
needs to catch a ride. They do so by grabbing a hold of their host – as you can see, the beetle's body is the precise size, shape and color of the abdomen of a worker ant, promising a safe journey free of other predators.
5. Endangered great ape: Tapanuli Orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis)
© Andrew Walmsley
These beauties are an isolated population at the southern range limit of Sumatran orangutans, in Batang Toru, who were found to be distinct from both northern Sumatran and Bornean species – making them a species of their own. "As soon as the significance of this isolated population was determined," writes ESF, "it revealed the most imperiled great ape in the world. Only an estimated 800 individuals exist in fragmented habitat spread over about 250,000 acres (about 1,000 square kilometers)."
6. The sea's deepest fish so far: Swire's Snailfish (Pseudoliparis swirei)
© Mackenzie Gerringer, University of Washington/Schmidt Ocean Institute
This 4-inch long, tadpole-like fish lives in the dark depths of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific – and it is the deepest-dwelling fish ever discovered so far. It was captured – from among many – at depths between 22,000 and 26,000 feet (6,898 and 7,966 m). Scientists believe that around 27,000 feet (8,200 m) is the physiological limit for a fish to be able to survive.
7. A heterotrophic bloom: Sciaphila sugimotoi
© Takaomi Sugimoto
The flora of Japan is already so well documented that new finds are extra exciting, especially when it's one as gorgeous as this one, found on Ishigaki Island. Interestingly, S. sugimotoi
is heterotrophic, meaning that rather than relying on photosynthesis, they get their sustenance from other organisms. S. sugimotoi
is symbiotic with a fungus from which it derives nutrition without harm to the partner. Sadly, the species is already critically endangered as only around 50 plants have been found, living in the humid evergreen forest.
8. The volcanic bacterium: Thiolava veneris
© Miquel Canals, University of Barcelona, Spain
This cool – or hot – species appeared on a new area created when the submarine volcano Tagoro erupted off the coast of El Hierro in the Canary Islands in 2011. The chaos of the volcano wiped out most of the marine ecosystem that was there before. Three years later, scientists found T. veneris
, a new colonizing bacterium with long, hair-like structures, all of which formed a rambling white mat, like deep-sea shag carpet, extending for nearly half an acre. ESF notes that "scientists reporting the new species concluded that the unique metabolic characteristics of the bacteria allow them to colonize this newly formed seabed, paving the way for development of early-stage ecosystems."
9. A marsupial lion: Wakaleo schouteni
© Illustration: Peter Schouten
This fossil found in Australia's Riversleigh World Heritage Area in Queensland tells of a 23-million-year-old marsupial lion – yes, that's right – that roamed the open forest looking for prey. Around the size of a 50-pound dog, the omnivorous predator spent part of its time in trees.
10. Cave-dwelling beetle: Xuedytes bellus
© Sunbin Huang and Mingyi Tian
It's creepy, it's crawly, it's a cave-dwelling beetle! This new species, less that than half an inch long (about 9 mm), was discovered in a cave in Du'an, Guangxi Province, China. The scientists note that it is striking in the dramatic elongation of its head and prothorax, the body segment immediately behind the head to which the first pair of legs attach. Of these ground beetles from the family Carabidae), the scientists note, "To date, more than 130 species, representing nearly 50 genera, have been described from China. This new one is a spectacular addition to the fauna."
For more on these wonderful organisms now known to us, visit ESF.