A glow-in-the-dark cockroach, an insect described from a photo posted on Flickr, a monkey that has been likened to Jesus, a carnivorous sea sponge, and the world’s tiniest frog are among the “top 10” species discovered during 2012, according to global committee of taxonomists.
The list, now in its sixth year, is based on a voting process organized by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. The announcement coincides with the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish botanist who established the modern system of classifying organisms.
The species selected by the panel tend to be ones that are charismatic and scored significant media attention, but the exercise aims to highlight how little we yet know about the species that share our planet.
“We have identified only about two million of an estimated 10 to 12 million living species and that does not count most of the microbial world,” said Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU. “For decades, we have averaged 18,000 species discoveries per year which seemed reasonable before the biodiversity crisis. Now, knowing that millions of species may not survive the 21st century, it is time to pick up the pace.”
Wheeler is pushing for a substantial increase in investment in identifying and classifying the world species.
“We are calling for a NASA-like mission to discover 10 million species in the next 50 years,” Wheeler said. “This would lead to discovering countless options for a more sustainable future while securing evidence of the origins of the biosphere.”
The descriptions below are courtesy of ASU’s International Institute for Species Exploration.
Tiny violet: Not only is the Lilliputian violet among the smallest violets in the world, it is also one of the most diminutive terrestrial dicots. 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 a new until 2012. The entire above ground portion of the plant is barely 1 centimeter tall. Named, obviously, for the race of little people on the island of Lilliput in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Lyre Sponge
Country: NE Pacific Ocean; USA: California
Carnivorous sponge: A spectacular, large, harp- or lyre-shaped carnivorous sponge 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 and each has more than 20 parallel vertical branches, 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.
Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Old World monkey: Discovered in the Lomami Basin of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the lesula is an Old World monkey 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. More easily heard than seen, the monkeys perform a booming dawn chorus. Adult males have a large, bare patch of skin on the buttocks, testicles and perineum that is colored a brilliant blue. Although the forests where the monkeys live are remote, the species is hunted for bush meat and its status is vulnerable.
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 including 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 where ore mining is degrading and diminishing its habitat. The species name is derived from the Spanish phrase “No a la mina” or “No to the mine.”
Fungus: In 2001, black stains began to appear on the walls of Lascaux Cave in France. By 2007, the stains were so prevalent they became a major concern for the conservation of precious rock art at the site that dates back to the Upper Paleolithic. An outbreak of a white fungus, Fusarium solani, had been successfully treated when just a few months later, black staining fungi appeared. The genus primarily includes fungi that occur in the soil and are associated with the decomposition of plant matter. As far as scientists know, this fungus, one of two new species of the genus from Lascaux, is harmless. However, at least one species of the group, O. gallopava, causes disease in humans who have compromised immune systems.
Country: New Guinea
Tiny frog: Living vertebrates — animals that have a backbone or spinal column — 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, determined by averaging the lengths of both males and females, is only 7.7 millimeters. With few exceptions, this and other ultra-small frogs are associated with moist leaf litter in tropical wet forests — suggesting a unique ecological guild that could not exist under drier circumstances.
Endangered shrub: Eugenia is a large, worldwide genus of woody evergreen trees and shrubs of the myrtle family that is particularly diverse in South America, New Caledonia and Madagascar. The new species E. petrikensis is a shrub growing to two meters with emerald green, slightly glossy foliage and beautiful, dense clusters of small magenta flowers. It is one of seven new species described from the littoral forest of eastern Madagascar and is considered to be an endangered species. It is the latest evidence of the unique and numerous species found in this specialized, humid forest that grows on sandy substrate within kilometers of the shoreline. Once forming a continuous band 1,600 kilometers long, the littoral forest has been reduced to isolated, vestigial fragments under pressure from human populations.
The possibly extinct Lucihormetica luckae, which oddly resembles a Jawa from Star Wars. Photo courtesy of Vršanský et al.
Glow-in-the-dark cockroach: Luminescence among terrestrial animals is rather rare and best known among several groups of beetles — fireflies and certain click beetles in particular — as well as cave-inhabiting fungus gnats. Since the first discovery of a luminescent 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 that 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 suggest that it is using light to mimic toxic luminescent click beetles.
Social media lacewing: 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 in a park near Kuala Lumpur and shared his photo on Flickr. Shaun Winterton, an entomologist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, serendipitously saw the image and 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 who confirmed its new species status. The three joined forces and prepared a description using Google Docs. In this triumph for citizen science, talents from around the globe collaborated by using new media in making the discovery. The lacewing is not named for its color — rather for Winterton’s daughter, Jade.
Hangingfly fossil: Living species of hangingflies can be found, as the name suggests, hanging beneath foliage where they capture other insects as food. They are a lineage of scorpionflies characterized by their skinny bodies, two pairs of narrow wings, and long threadlike legs. A new fossil species, Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia, has been found along with preserved leaves of a gingko-like tree, Yimaia capituliformis, 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 and represent a rare example of an insect mimicking a gymnosperm 165 million years ago, before an explosive radiation of flowering plants.
Lee, W. L., Reiswig, H. M., Austin, W. C. and Lundsten, L. (2012), An extraordinary new carnivorous sponge, Chondrocladia lyra, in the new subgenus Symmetrocladia (Demospongiae, Cladorhizidae), from off of northern California, USA. Invertebrate Biology, 131: 259–284. doi: 10.1111/ivb.12001
Harvey E. Ballard Jr. and Hugh H. Iltis. Viola lilliputana sp. nov. (Viola sect. Andinium, Violaceae), one of the world’s smallest violets, from the Andes of Peru. Brittonia Volume 64, Issue 4 , pp 353-358. 2012-12-01
Vršanský, P., & Chorvát, D. (2012). light-mimicking cockroaches indicate tertiary origin of recent terrestrial luminescence. Naturwissenschaften, 99, 739-749.
Hart JA, Detwiler KM, Gilbert CC, Burrell AS, Fuller JL, et al. (2012) Lesula: A New Species of Cercopithecus Monkey Endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Implications for Conservation of Congo’s Central Basin. PLoS ONE 7: e44271. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044271
Winterton SL, Guek HP, Brooks SJ (2012) A charismatic new species of green lacewing discovered in Malaysia (Neuroptera, Chrysopidae): the confluence of citizen scientist, online image database and cybertaxonomy. ZooKeys 214: 1–11. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.214.3220
Martin-Sanchez PM et al. Two new species of the genus Ochroconis, O. lascauxensis and O. anomala isolated from black stains in Lascaux Cave, France. Fungal Biol. 2012 May;116:574-89. doi: 10.1016/j.funbio.2012.02.006. Epub 2012 Mar 8.
NEIL SNOW et al. Studies of Malagasy Eugenia (Myrtaceae)—III: Seven new species of high conservation concern from the eastern littoral forests. published online in PDF: 15 Mar. 2012 PHYTOTAXA 48: 39–60
Rittmeyer EN, Allison A, Gründler MC, Thompson DK, Austin CC (2012) Ecological Guild Evolution and the Discovery of the World’s Smallest Vertebrate. PLoS ONE 7: e29797. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029797
Sebastian Lotzkat, Andreas Hertz, Gunther Kohler. A new species of Sibon (Squamata: Colubroidea: Dipsadidae) from the Cordillera Central of western Panama, with comments on other species of the genus in the area. Zootaxa. 3485: 26–40 (2012).
Yongjie Wang at al. Jurassic mimicry between a hangingfly and a ginkgo from China. PNAS November 26, 2012. 10.1073/pnas.1205517109
This article was written for Mongabay.com and re-posted on Focusing on Wildlife.