The United Nations declared 2010 “The Year of Biodiversity,” and as it draws to a close I wanted to highlight a few of the weird and interesting species found this year. But remember that I’m just showing the bizarre or intriguing ones. There are lots of less charismatic species discovered this year whose biology, when known, may be even more interesting.
A striped sea urchin, found by the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Little Hercules during deep-sea dives off Indonesia in 2010. You can see a stunning collection of photographs of fifty-odd creatures seen during the dives here.
A barrel sponge, also found by the Hercules:
This year also saw the discovery of the world’s longest insect, the phasmid Phobaeticus chani from Borneo. Exceeding the previous record holder (another stick insect) by 29 mm—a bit more than an inch—it was found in a private collection, and there are apparently just three specimens. Measurements: 14.1 inches (35.8 cm) head to tail, 22.3 inches (56.7cm) including legs (there’s a description and a lovely video from London’s Natural History Museum). Here’s the big specimen; the ruler is 30 cm long (11.8 inches):
Here’s a different species (I think it’s Australia’s titan stick insect, Acrophylla titan, but I’m not sure), showing how large they get. Stick insects are now placed in the order Phasmatodea (they’re called “phasmids” by entomologists); they were previously put in the order Orthoptera with crickets and grasshoppers, but have now been separated.
And a nice Attenborough video on stick insects, from the Life in the Underground series. This species has a remarkable adaptation: it lays eggs that resemble seeds that are collected and eaten by ants. The ants take the seed-mimic eggs to their nests, but don’t eat them. There, protected from predators and the elements, the eggs eventually hatch—sometimes after as long as three years!—to produce a new generation of stick insects.
Two new proboscoidally challenged species were also discovered this year. One is the tubed-nosed fruit bat in the genus Nyctimene, found during an expedition to Papua New Guinea. I’m not at all sure why the nostrils are tubular; could it be to help them localize food?
For obvious reasons it’s nicknamed “the Yoda bat”:
The other is a long-nosed tree frog, also found on New Guinea:
L.A. Unleashed describes its discovery:
An international team of researchers was camping in the Foja mountains of Indonesia when herpetologist Paul Oliver spied a frog sitting on a bag of rice in the campsite.
On closer look it turned out to be a previously unknown type of long-nosed frog. The scientists dubbed it Pinocchio.
When the frog is calling, its nose points upward, but it deflates when the animal is less active.
“We were sitting around eating lunch,” recalled Smithsonian ornithologist Chris Milensky. Oliver “looked down and there’s this little frog on a rice sack, and he managed to grab the thing.”
Here’s a bizarre creature, also photographed in the deep waters off Indonesia by the Little Hercules, that I can’t identify. Perhaps a reader knows what this is:
Finally, this doesn’t happen very often: a putative new species of primate, the snub-nosed monkey, was discovered in Myanmar. I’m a bit dubious about this one since the species, Rhinopithecus strykeri, was apparently designated as new based on color differences from existing snub-nosed monkeys and the fact that the “species” (consisting of a few hundred invidividuals) was geographically isolated from others. But that’s not a good way to name a new species: as we know, different human groups (which were once geographically isolated) differ in pigmentation and other traits, but nobody claims that ethnic groups correspond to different species of humans. This primate “species” could just be an ecotype. Anyway, the BBC reports:
Evidence from hunters also suggested that the monkeys were particularly easy to find in the rain. The monkeys allegedly sneeze audibly when rainwater gets in their noses and local people said they could be found with their heads tucked between their knees on rainy days.
Here’s a digital reconstruction of the beast, which apparently has not been photographed close up:
To paraphrase Monty Python, “Every species is sacred.” Each one has a tale of ecology and evolution to tell—a tale that’s lost forever if the species goes extinct.
UPDATE: You can see the BBC’s ten “species of the decade” here.