Top 10 new species: sneezing monkeys and giant millipedes

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
by Carol Hughes

Sneezing monkey. Photo by Thomas Geissmann / Fauna & Flora International.

A monkey that sneezes when it rains. A beautiful jellyfish with a painful sting. A worm that lives almost a mile underground. A fungus named after SpongeBob SquarePants. These are a few of the living things in this year’s top 10 new species list. The list shows off some of the most interesting new species discovered in 2011.

This is the fifth year for the top 10 new species list, which is chosen by a group of scientists at ASU and around the world. This committee looked for “species that capture our attention because they are unusual or because they have traits that are bizarre,” said Mary Liz Jameson, the committee chair and an associate professor at Wichita State University. “Some of the new species have interesting names; some highlight what little we really know about our planet.”

The top 10 new species also include a night-blooming orchid, an ancient walking cactus creature and a tiny wasp. Rounding out the list are a vibrant poppy, a giant millipede and a blue tarantula.

“The more species we discover, the more amazing the biosphere proves to be, and the better prepared we are to face whatever environmental challenges lie ahead,” said Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist with the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU.

This year's winners are...

Sneezing monkey
Scientific name: Rhinopithecus strykeri
Found in: Myanmar (formerly Burma)
About 18,000 new species are found each year, but only about 36 of them are mammals. So it was nothing to sneeze at when a new primate came to the attention of scientists in the high mountains of Myanmar. This creature is the first snub-nosed monkey to be reported from Myanmar scientists believe it is critically endangered. It has black fur and white beard and sneezes when it rains.

Bonaire banded box jelly 
Scientific name: Tamoya ohboya
Found in: waters near the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire
This strikingly beautiful yet venomous jellyfish looks like a box kite with colorful, long tails. The species name, Tamoya ohboya, was selected by a teacher as part of a citizen science project, assuming that people who are stung exclaim “Oh boy!”

This year's top 10 new species include a teensy attack wasp, night-blooming orchid, underworld worm, ancient “walking cactus” creature and blue tarantula. Composite by Sara Pennak, ASU.

Devil’s worm
Scientific name: Halicephalobus mephisto
Found in: South African gold mine
Measuring about 0.5 millimeters (0.02 inches) these tiny nematodes are the deepest-living multicellular organisms on the planet outside of the oceans. They were discovered at a depth of 1.3 kilometers (8/10 mile) where they survived immense underground pressure as well as high temperatures (37 degrees Celsius or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Carbon dating suggests that the water where this species lives had not been in contact with Earth’s atmosphere for the last 4,000 to 6,000 years.

Night-blooming orchid
Scientific name: Bulbophyllum nocturnum
Found in: Papua New Guinea
A slender night stalker is one way to describe this rare orchid whose flowers open around 10 at night and close early the next morning. Its scientific name comes from the Latin word meaning “at night.” It is believed to be the first night-blooming orchid recorded among the more than 25,000 known species of orchids.

Parasitic wasp
Scientific name: Kollasmosoma sentum
Found in: Madrid, Spain
Ants beware! This new species of parasitic wasp cruises at just one centimeter (less than half an inch) above the ground in search of its target: ants. With a target in sight, the teensy wasp attacks from the air like a tiny dive-bomber, depositing an egg in less than 1/20 of a second.

SpongeBob SquarePants mushroom
Scientific name: Spongiforma squarepantsii
Found in: forests on the island of Borneo in Malaysia
This fruity-smelling fungus was named after the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants because it looks more like a sponge than a mushroom. One of its characteristics is that its fruiting body can be squeezed like a sponge and bounce back to its normal size and shape.

Nepalese autumn poppy
Scientific name: Meconopsis autumnalis
Found in: Nepal
This vibrant, tall, yellow poppy may have gone undescribed because of its high mountain habitat (10,827 to 13,780 feet). There is evidence that this species was collected before but not recognized as new. In 2011, intrepid botanists collecting plants miles from human habitation in heavy monsoon rains made the “rediscovery.”

Giant millipede
Scientific name: Crurifarcimen vagans
Found in: Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains
A giant millipede about the length of a sausage bears the common name “wandering leg sausage.” The species holds a new record as the largest millipede (16 centimeters or about 6.3 inches). The creature is about 1.5 centimeters (0.6 inch) in diameter with 56 body segments, each with two pairs of legs.

More winners: Nepalese poppy, giant millipede, sneezing monkey, fungus named for a TV cartoon character and a beautiful but venomous jellyfish. Composite by Sara Pennak, ASU.

Walking cactus (lobopod fossil)
Scientific name: Diania cactiformis
Found in: southwestern China
Although this new species looks more like a “walking cactus” than an animal at first glance, it actually belongs to an extinct group called the armoured Lobopodia, which had wormlike bodies and multiple pairs of legs. The fossil was discovered in Cambrian deposits about 520 million years old. It is remarkable in its segmented legs that may indicate a common ancestry with insects and spiders.

Sazima’s tarantula
Scientific name: Pterinopelma sazimai
Found in: Brazil
Breathtakingly beautiful, this iridescent hairy blue tarantula is the first new animal species from Brazil to be named on the top 10 list. It is not the first or only blue tarantula but it is truly spectacular. It comes from “island” ecosystems on flattop mountains.

Happy birthday, Linnaeus!

The top 10 list was released on May 23, the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus. Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist born more than 300 years ago. He created the modern system of naming and classifying animals and plants.

Since then, nearly 2 million species have been named, described and classified. Scientists estimate there are between 8 million and 100 million species on Earth. Most set the number between 8 million to 12 million.

You can find more information about this year’s top 10 list—and lists from the past—at The site also includes a Google map that pinpoints where each of the new species was found.