Scientists announce Top 10 New Species

Thursday, May 23, 2013
by Sandra Leander

 

An amazing glow-in-the-dark cockroach. A harp-shaped carnivorous sponge. The smallest vertebrate on Earth. These are just three of the newly discovered top 10 species. They were selected by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. A global committee of scientists announced its list of top 10 species from 2012 today, May 23. These scientists are called taxonomists. They are responsible for species exploration and classification.

The announcement is now in its sixth year. It coincides with the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus. Linnaeus was an 18th century Swedish botanist. He is responsible for the modern system of scientific names and classifications.

Also slithering its way onto this year’s top 10 is a snail-eating false coral snake. In addition there are flowering bushes from a disappearing forest in Madagascar. Also included is a green lacewing that was discovered through social media. Not to mention, hangingflies that perfectly mimicked ginkgo tree leaves 165 million years ago. Rounding out the list is a new monkey with a blue-colored behind and human-like eyes. You’ll also learn about a tiny violet and a black staining fungus that threatens rare Paleolithic cave paintings in France.

“We have identified only about two million of an estimated 10 to 12 million living species. That does not count most of the microbial world,” said Quentin Wheeler. Wheeler is founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU. He is also author of “What on Earth? 100 of our Planet’s Most Amazing New Species” (NY, Plume, 2013).

“For decades, we have averaged 18,000 species discoveries per year. That seemed reasonable before the biodiversity crisis. Now we know that millions of species may not survive the 21st century. It is time to pick up the pace,” Wheeler added.

“We are calling for a NASA-like mission to discover 10 million species in the next 50 years. This would lead to discovering countless options for a more sustainable future. It would also help us in securing evidence of the origins of the biosphere,” Wheeler said.

Taxon experts pick top 10

Members of the international committee made their top 10 selection from more than 140 nominated species. To be considered, species must have been described in compliance with the appropriate code of nomenclature. That could be botanical, zoological or microbiological. They must also have been officially named during 2012.

“Selecting the final list of new species from a wide range of life forms such as bacteria, fungi, plants and animals, is difficult. It requires finding a balance between certain criteria and the special insights from selection committee members,” said Antonio Valdecasas. Valdecasas is a biologist and research zoologist with Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain. He is the international selection committee chairman for the top 10 new species.

“We look for organisms with unexpected features or size. Also, we look for those found in rare or difficult to reach habitats. We look for organisms that are especially significant to humans. Additionally, those that play a certain role in human habitat or that are considered a close relative,” Valdecasas added.

This year’s top 10 come from Peru; NE Pacific Ocean, USA: California; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Panama; France; New Guinea; Madagascar; Ecuador; Malaysia; and China.

Top 10 New Species, 2013

“I am astounded by the species discovered each year. But also, by the depths of our ignorance about biodiversity,” shared Wheeler.

“We search the heavens for other earthlike planets. We should also make it a high priority to explore the most earthlike planet of them all: Earth,” he added. “More than eight out of every 10 living species are awaiting discovery. I am shocked by our ignorance of our very own planet. And I’m in awe at the diversity, beauty and complexity of the biosphere and its inhabitants.”

Describing the discoveries

Lilliputian Violet

Viola lilliputana

Country: Peru

Tiny violet: The Lilliputian violet among the smallest violets in the world. It is also one of the tiniest earthly dicots. It is known only from a single locality in an Intermontane Plateau of the high Andes of Peru. Viola lilliputana lives in the dry puna grassland eco-region. Specimens were first collected in the 1960s. But the species was not described as new until 2012. The entire above ground portion of the plant is barely 1 centimeter tall. It was named for the race of little people on the island of Lilliput in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Puna habitat of Viola lilliputana. Photo by: Hugh H. Iltis

Puna habitat of Viola lilliputana. Photo by: Hugh H. Iltis

Photo by: Harvey Ballard

Photo by: Harvey Ballard

Lyre Sponge

Chondrocladia lyra

Country: NE Pacific Ocean; USA: California

Carnivorous sponge: A spectacular, large, harp- or lyre-shaped carnivorous sponge. It was discovered in deep water (averaging 3,399 meters) from the northeast Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. The harp-shaped structures or vanes number from two to six. Each has more than 20 parallel vertical branches. Those branches are often capped by an expanded, balloon-like, terminal ball. This unusual form maximizes the surface area of the sponge for contact and capture of planktonic prey.

Lyre sponge, Chondrocladia lyra. Photo by: © 2013 MBARI

Lyre sponge, Chondrocladia lyra. Photo by: © 2013 MBARI

Photo by: © 2013 MBARI

Photo by: © 2013 MBARI

Lesula Monkey

Cercopithecus lomamiensis

Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Old World monkey: This species was discovered in the Lomami Basin of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The lesula is an Old World monkey. It is well known to locals but newly known to science. This is only the second species of monkey discovered in Africa in the past 28 years. Scientists first saw the monkey as a captive juvenile in 2007. Researchers describe the shy lesula as having human-like eyes. The monkeys perform a booming dawn chorus. They are more easily heard than seen. Adult males have a large, bare patch of skin on the buttocks, testicles and perineum that is colored a brilliant blue. The forests where the monkeys live are remote. But the species is hunted for bush meat and its status is vulnerable.

Portrait of adult male Cercopithecus lomamiensis. Photo by: Maurice Emetshu

Portrait of adult male Cercopithecus lomamiensis. Photo by: Maurice Emetshu

Illustration by:  K•Honda

Illustration by: K•Honda

No to the Mine! Snake

Sibon noalamina

Country: Panama

Snail-eating snake: A beautiful new species of snail-eating snake has been discovered in the highland rainforests of western Panama. The snake is nocturnal and hunts soft-bodied prey. These include earthworms and amphibian eggs, in addition to snails and slugs. This harmless snake defends itself by mimicking the alternating dark and light rings of venomous coral snakes. The species is found in the Serranía de Tabasará mountain range. Here, ore mining is threatening its habitat. The species name is derived from the Spanish phrase “No a la mina” or “No to the mine.”

No to the Mine! Snake, Sibon noalamina. Photo by: © Sevastian Lotzkat

No to the Mine! Snake, Sibon noalamina. Photo by: © Sevastian Lotzkat

Photo by: © Sevastian Lotzkat

Photo by: © Sevastian Lotzkat

A Smudge on Paleolithic Art

Ochroconis anomala

Country: France

Fungus: In 2001, black stains began to appear on the walls of Lascaux Cave in France. By 2007, the stains had become a major concern for the conservation of precious rock art at the site. The art dates back to the Upper Paleolithic. An outbreak of a white fungus, Fusarium solani, had been successfully treated. But then just a few months later, black staining fungi appeared. The genus primarily includes fungi that occur in the soil. They are associated with the decomposition of plant matter. As far as scientists know, this fungus is harmless. But at least one species of the group causes disease in humans who have weak immune systems.

Ochroconis lascauxensis. Two-month colony on PDA (a) and conidia (b and c). Photo by: Pedro M. Martin-Sanchez

Ochroconis lascauxensis. Two-month colony on PDA (a) and conidia (b and c). Photo by: Pedro M. Martin-Sanchez

Paintings at Lascaux Dave, France. Photo by: Prof saxx

Paintings at Lascaux Dave, France. Photo by: Prof saxx

World’s Smallest Vertebrate

Paedophryne amanuensis

Country: New Guinea

Tiny frog: Vertebrates are animals that have a backbone or spinal column. They range in size from this tiny new species of frog, as small as 7 millimeters, to the blue whale, measuring 25.8 meters. The new frog was discovered near Amau village in Papua, New Guinea. It captures the title of ‘smallest living vertebrate’ from a tiny Southeast Asian cyprinid fish that claimed the record in 2006. The adult frog size is determined by averaging the lengths of both males and females. That is only 7.7 millimeters. With few exceptions, this and other ultra-small frogs are found with moist leaf litter in tropical wet forests. This suggests a unique ecological guild that could not exist under drier circumstances.

Photograph of paratype of P. amanuensis (LSUMZ 95004) on U.S. dime (diameter 17.91 mm). Photo by: Christopher C. Austin

Photograph of paratype of P. amanuensis (LSUMZ 95004) on U.S. dime (diameter 17.91 mm). Photo by: Christopher C. Austin

Endangered Forest

Eugenia petrikensis

Country: Madagascar

Endangered shrub: Eugenia is a large, worldwide genus of woody evergreen trees and shrubs. They are particularly diverse in South America, New Caledonia and Madagascar. The new species E. petrikensis is a shrub that grows to two meters. It has emerald green, slightly glossy foliage. It also boasts beautiful, dense clusters of small magenta flowers. It is one of seven new species described from the littoral forest of eastern Madagascar. It is considered to be an endangered species. It is the latest evidence of the unique and numerous species found in this humid forest. The forest grows on a sandy substrate within kilometers of the shoreline. Under pressure from human populations, the littoral forest has been reduced to isolated fragments.

Eugenia petrikensis, Madagascar littoral forest. Photo by: David Rabehevitra

Eugenia petrikensis, Madagascar littoral forest. Photo by: David Rabehevitra

Lightning Roaches?

Lucihormetica luckae

Country: Ecuador

Glow-in-the-dark cockroach: Luminescence among earthly animals is rather rare. It is best known among several groups of beetles. These include fireflies and certain click beetles in particular, as well as cave-inhabiting fungus gnats. Since the first discovery of a glowing cockroach in 1999, more than a dozen species have (pardon the pun) “come to light.” All are rare, and interestingly, so far found only in remote areas far from light pollution. The latest addition to this growing list is L. luckae. It may be endangered or possibly already extinct. This cockroach is known from a single specimen collected 70 years ago from an area heavily impacted by the eruption of the Tungurahua volcano. The species may be most remarkable because the size and placement of its lamps. They suggest that it is using light to mimic toxic luminescent click beetles.

Photograph of a new, light-mimicking cockroach Lucihormetica luckae in daylight and under fluorescent light. Notable are two luminescent lanterns and one minor asymmetrical lantern on the right side. The species is likely extinct — its only known habitat was destroyed by the eruption of Tungurahua in December 2010/Peter Vrsansky & Dusan Chorvat 2012

Photograph of a new, light-mimicking cockroach Lucihormetica luckae in daylight and under fluorescent light. Notable are two luminescent lanterns and one minor asymmetrical lantern on the right side. The species is likely extinct — its only known habitat was destroyed by the eruption of Tungurahua in December 2010/Peter Vrsansky & Dusan Chorvat 2012

Illustration based on A3 size line-drawing/ Peter Vrsansky 2012

Illustration based on A3 size line-drawing/ Peter Vrsansky 2012

No Social Butterfly

Semachrysa jade

Country: Malaysia

Social media lacewing: This butterfly was discovered in a trend-setting collision of science and social media. Hock Ping Guek photographed a beautiful green lacewing with dark markings at the base of its wings. He was in a park near Kuala Lumpur. He later shared his photo on Flickr. Shaun Winterton, an entomologist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, saw the image by chance. Winterton recognized the insect as unusual. When Guek was able to collect a specimen, it was sent to Stephen Brooks at London’s Natural History Museum. Brooks confirmed it was a new species status. The three joined forces and prepared a description using Google Docs. This was a great triumph for citizen science. Talents from around the globe worked together by using new media in making the discovery. The lacewing is not named for its color. It is named for Winterton’s daughter, Jade.

Jade green lacewing, Semachrysa jade. Photo by: Guek Hock Ping

Jade green lacewing, Semachrysa jade. Photo by: Guek Hock Ping

Photo by: Guek Hock Ping

Photo by: Guek Hock Ping

Hanging Around in the Jurassic

Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia

Country: China

Hangingfly fossil: Living species of hangingflies can be found, as the name suggests, hanging beneath foliage. That is where they capture other insects as food. They are a lineage of scorpionflies. They are characterized by their skinny bodies, two pairs of narrow wings, and long threadlike legs. This new fossil species, Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia, has been found along with preserved leaves of a gingko-like tree, Yimaia capituliformis. The two were found in Middle Jurassic deposits in the Jiulongshan Formation in China’s Inner Mongolia. The two look so similar that they are easily confused in the field. They represent a rare example of an insect mimicking a gymnosperm 165 million years ago. This was before an explosive radiation of flowering plants.

A specimen of Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia — a new genus and species, showing an appearance similar to Y. capituliformis.  Photo by: Wang, Labandeira, Shih and Ren

A specimen of Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia — a new genus and species, showing an appearance similar to Y. capituliformis. Photo by: Wang, Labandeira, Shih and Ren

A reconstruction of Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia mimicking the Ginkgoites leaves of the contemporaneous Yimaia caputiliformis plant, while sharing in a mutual benefit for both hangingfly and a ginkgo plant. Artwork by Ms. Chen Wang

A reconstruction of Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia mimicking the Ginkgoites leaves of the contemporaneous Yimaia caputiliformis plant, while sharing in a mutual benefit for both hangingfly and a ginkgo plant. Artwork by Ms. Chen Wang

Why create a top 10 new species list?

Arizona State University’s International Institute for Species Exploration announces the top 10 new species list each year. This is part of its public awareness campaign. The university hopes to bring attention to biodiversity and the field of taxonomy.

“Sustainable biodiversity means assuring the survival of as many and as diverse species as possible. That way, ecosystems are resilient to whatever stresses they face in the future. Scientists will need access to as much evidence of evolutionary history as possible,” said the institute’s Wheeler. He is also a professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Wheeler also serves as a professor in the School of Sustainability, as well as a senior sustainability scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability.

“All of our hopes and dreams for conservation hinge upon saving millions of species.  But we cannot recognize them and know nothing about them,” Wheeler added. “No investment makes more sense than completing a simple inventory to establish baseline data. That tells us what kinds of plants and animals exist and where. Until we know what species already exist, it is folly to expect we will make the right decisions. We want to assure the best possible outcome for the pending biodiversity crisis.”

Additionally, the announcement is made on or near May 23. This is to honor Linnaeus. He initiated the modern system for naming plants and animals. Since then, nearly two million species have been named, described and classified. Excluding unknown millions of microbes, scientists estimate there are between 10 and 12 million living species.

IISE International Selection Committee:

Antonio G. Valdecasas, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, Spain, Committee Chair; Andrew Polaszek, Natural History Museum, England; Ellinor Michel, Natural History Museum, England; Marcelo Rodrigues de Carvalho, Universidade de São Paulo; Aharon Oren, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Mary Liz Jameson, Wichita State University, USA; Alan Paton, Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, England; James A. Macklin, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canada; John S. Noyes, Natural History Museum, England; Zhi-Qiang Zhang, Landcare Research, New Zealand; and Gideon Smith, South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa.

Nominations for the 2014 list — for species described in 2013 — may be made online at http://species.asu.edu/species-nomination. Previous top 10 lists are available at: http://species.asu.edu.

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Top 10 new species images

The top 10 new species list is not presented in any particular order and the new species are not ranked. High-resolution images of the top 10 new species are available by request to members of the media by emailing Sandra Leander, Sandra.Leander@asu.edu. Please include your media affiliation.

Images and other information about the top 10 new species may be viewed at www.top10species.org. Also available is a Google world map pinpointing the location for each of the top 10 new species.