Each year the Arizona Institute for Species Exploration issues its list of the “top ten new species of the year.” The mission of the AISE, at Arizona State University, is to promote taxonomy and the exploration of the Earth’s biodiversity.
Their list for 2011, which includes only species first described scientifically in 2010, has now been published, and there are some amazing species on it. They include two fungi (a bioluminescent mushroom and the world’s only mushroom known to fruit underwater), a spider that builds the largest orb-style web ever described, a new halophilic bacterium found eating rust off the Titanic, a cricket that pollinates an orchid on Reunion Island (the only cricket known to pollinate a flowering plant), a two-meter-long monitor lizard from the Phillipines (it was already known to the locals), a jumping cockroach that looks like a grasshopper, and, perhaps most amazingly, a brand-new species of duiker (antelope), found in a bushmeat market in Africa (it’s hard to believe an antelope has gone undescribed!).
The descriptions on the AISE pages also give the journal references where the species were described. A few of them:
Darwin’s bark spider (Caerostris darwini) from Madagascar. Look at the size of that web, spun by a single individual! (Images © Matjaž Kuntner):
A new leech (Tyrannobdella rex) found feeding in the nostrils of two children in South America. (The PLos One article describes one as being nearly three inches long). T. rex is unique because it’s the only known leech with a “single armed jaw with such large teeth.”
The first known underwater mushroom, Psathyrella aquatica, from Oregon! (Photos copyright by Robert Coffan). You can see a short video of it at this link:
A jumping cockroach, Saltoblattella montistabularis, from South Africa (photo courtesy of Mike Picker). Resembling a grasshopper, it’s a remarkable example of convergent evolution between insects from two different orders. The website says this:
This new species of cockroach exhibits unusual morphology. It has legs that are highly modified for jumping. Prior to its discovery jumping cockroaches were only known from the Late Jurassic. This extant cockroach has jumping ability that is on par with grasshoppers. In addition to the leg modifications, it has hemispherical shaped eyes that protrude from the sides of the head instead of kidney shaped and the antennae have an additional fixation point to help stabilize them during jumping.
And my favorite, the Louisiana Pancake Batfish (Halieutichthys intermedius; photo by Prosanta Chakrabarty). It was discovered right before the BP oil spill, and in the same area. Let’s hope it’s still around:
Think of all the weird and wonderful stuff that’s still out there and undescribed! Much of it never will be, either, if we keep despoiling our planet.