21 May 2015

Top 10 New Species for 2015

From Our Changing World, 10:00 pm on 21 May 2015

By Alison Ballance

Mysterious Troquigener pufferfish spawning circle, which is about 2 metres in diameter, and a pair of pufferfish courting (the male on the right is biting the female's cheek)

Mysterious Troquigener pufferfish spawning circle, which is about 2 metres in diameter, and a pair of pufferfish courting (the male on the right is biting the female's cheek) Photo: Yoji Okata

A cart-wheeling spider from Morocco. A Japanese pufferfish, whose mysterious underwater ‘crop circles’ puzzled scientists for nearly 20 years. And the Chinese bone-house wasp, which uses dead ants to protect its nest.

What these animals have in common is that they’ve just been recognised in the Top 10 New Species for 2015.

The colourful sea slug Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum is a ‘missing’ link between sea slugs that eat hydroids and those that eat corals.

The colourful sea slug Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum is a ‘missing’ link between sea slugs that eat hydroids and those that eat corals. Photo: Robert Bolland

The global list is compiled annually by the International Institute for Species Exploration, at the State University of New York. It’s a hotly contested honour, as the Top Ten are chosen from nearly 18,000 new species described by scientists during the previous year.

The branching above-ground tubers and young inflorescences, or flower heads, of the newly described parasitic plant Balanophora coralliformis, from the Philippines.

The branching above-ground tubers and young inflorescences, or flower heads, of the newly described parasitic plant Balanophora coralliformis, from the Philippines. Photo: P.B. Pelser & J.F. Barcelona

And it’s not just animals on the list. Dr Pieter Pelser and Dr Julie Barcelona, from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Canterbury, described an unusual plant from the Philippines.

“It’s a quite bizarre species,” says Dr Pelser. “It looks more like a coral colony than a plant, and because it looks so much like a coral we named it Balanophora coralliformis.”

“It’s a parasitic plant, so it taps into the roots of nearby plants to steal their water and nutrients for its own use.”

Botanists Dr Pelser and Dr Barcelona found the plant on a remote mountain on the Philippine Island of Luzon. They knew of its existence from photos that had been taken by a Filipino colleague, and they recognised that it was different from any other species of Balanophora known to science. “We had an opportunity to do field work in the area the photo was taken, and fortunately we got lucky and we found it.”

The aptly-named Dendrogramma enigmatica is a multicellular marine animal with a mouth at the bottom end of the stem.

The aptly-named Dendrogramma enigmatica is a multicellular marine animal with a mouth at the bottom end of the stem. Photo: Jorgen Olesen

The Top 10 New Species list is released each year to mark the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, an 18th century botanist who‘s considered the father of taxonomy. Dr Quentin Wheeler, President of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York says the purpose of the list is to draw attention to the world’s remarkable biodiversity.

“The purpose of the Top Ten is to bring attention to how little we know about life on earth. In 250 years we’ve discovered fewer than two million kinds of plants and animals, and the best estimates are there another 10 million awaiting discovery. And many of those will inevitably disappear before they’ve ever been discovered and given a name.”

The peculiar parasitic plant was almost immediately declared endangered after it was discovered, as fewer than 50 plants have been found.

Not all the new species are rare. Two turned out to be hiding in broad daylight – a 23-centimetre long stick insect is common in a Vietnamese town, while Mexican villagers often use a beautiful – and new to science - bromeliad in their elaborate Christmas altar displays.

The Indonesian fanged frog Limnonectes larvaepartus lays live tadpoles, rather than eggs or live froglets. A male is pictured at left and female at right.

The Indonesian fanged frog Limnonectes larvaepartus lays live tadpoles, rather than eggs or live froglets. A male is pictured at left and female at right. Photo: Jimmy A. McGuire

Also on the Top 10 New Species list:

A small feathered dinosaur – nick-named the ‘chicken from hell’ – and described from three fossil skeletons found in Dakota, USA.

Dendrogramma enigmatica -   a mysterious marine creature from Australia that may be an entirely new phylum of animals, somehow related to jellyfish and comb jellies.

An Indonesian fanged frog that, unlike almost all other frogs, gives birth to live tadpoles.

And a beautiful Japanese sea slug that comes in shades of blue, red and gold.

A male Vietnamese stick insect Phryganistria  tamdaoensis is nearly the length of a human forearm (left), and Mexican villagers have long known of the bromeliad Tillandsia religiosa but it is a new discovery to science.

A male Vietnamese stick insect Phryganistria tamdaoensis is nearly the length of a human forearm (left), and Mexican villagers have long known of the bromeliad Tillandsia religiosa but it is a new discovery to science. Photo: Robert Bolland and A. Espejo

A female bone-house wasp Deuteragenia ossarium protects the eggs in her nest (to the right of the bottom photo) with a door-stop of dead ants (left of bottom photo).

A female bone-house wasp Deuteragenia ossarium protects the eggs in her nest (to the right of the bottom photo) with a door-stop of dead ants (left of bottom photo). Photo: Michael Staab (top) and Merten Ehmig (bottom)

The cart-wheeling spider Cebrennus rechenbergi can roll across the flat, as well as down hills, to escape predators.

The cart-wheeling spider Cebrennus rechenbergi can roll across the flat, as well as down hills, to escape predators. Photo: Prof. Dr. Ingo Rechenberg Technical University Berlin

Reconstruction of the new feathered dinosaur Anzu wyliei in its environment in western North America about 66 million years ago.

Reconstruction of the new feathered dinosaur Anzu wyliei in its environment in western North America about 66 million years ago. Photo: Mark A. Klingler, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

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