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Thursday
Jun122014

New kids on the block

Over 18,000 new species were identified last year; meet some of the weird and wonderful animals, plants and even microbes that live anywhere from under the ice caps of the arctic to inside clean rooms in labs.

Image courtesy of Anne Toal

At a time of possible mass extinction when we are losing an estimated 10,000 species a year, it is great to have good news of new species being discovered, sometimes in the most unlikely of places. It is thought that there are around 10,000 species awaiting discovery; 5 times as many as we have described. Without these species we cannot get a full picture of the biodiversity crisis that is unfolding. Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at the State University of New York, whose new top 10 list promotes some of the most interesting new discoveries, said "Without a baseline of what exists, humans will not know if something disappears." The list was released on the birthday of the father of taxonomy Carolus Linnaeus in 1707.

Black-tailed antechinus Antechinus arktos

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This small marsupial was caught in Australia’s Springbrook National Park, Queensland. But the most interesting discovery involved its promiscuous mating habits. Males mate so intensely that due to skyrocketing levels of hormones they do not survive to see their young born. However not only does the female ask the male to literally give everything for their offspring, she can store the sperm of all the males she has mated with during the season and gives birth to a brood of several different fathers.

Skeleton shrimp Liropus minusculus

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

 This is the newest member of the Caprellidae family, the first found in the northeatern Pacific ocean, specimens were found off the island of Santa Catalina, southern California. These shrimps measure between 2.5 and 3.3 mm and have translucent bodies which appear bony, interestingly despite their names they are not actually shrimps, being classed as caprellid amphipods.

Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko Saltuarius eximius

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Discovered in the isolated rainforests of the Melville range in Northeastern Australia, it’s mottled coloration allows it to blend in to its rocky habitat and lay in wait for its prey, the longer limbs, more slender body and larger eyes may give it an edge in that department. Six individuals found in what is believed to be a relict population from when Australia had a higher proportion of rainforest cover. 

Domed Land Snail Zospeum tholussum

Image courtesy of College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State of New York (USA)

This tiny see-through creature was found 900 m below ground in the Lukina Jama-Trojama caves of western Croatia, one live specimen was analysed along with 8 empty shells. It has lost the need for both pigmentation and eyes, as it lives in the pitch-black darkness where it moves only at a pace of a few centimetres a week but can hitch a lift on other animals such as bats or crickets or use water currents when it needs to move further.

Amoebid Protist Spiculosiphon oceana

Image courtesy of College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State of New York (USA)

Protists are the most basic form of eukaryotes, this single celled organism is 4-5 cm in length, lives in the Mediterranean Sea, 30 miles off the Spanish coast and gathers Silica fragments around itself to construct a shell, these spiny structures trap invertebrates, which it then feeds on similar to the carnivorous sponge with which it shares the deep-sea cave habitat.

Kaweesak’s Dragon Tree Dracaena kaweesakii

Image courtesy of College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State of New York (USA)

 Hidden in plain sight in the beautiful in the limestone mountains of the Loei and Lop Buri Provinces in Thailand, it has sword-shaped leaves with white edges and cream-colored flowers with bright orange filaments. There may only be around 2,500 left in the wild as its habitat is under threat from limestone extraction, wanted for the manufacture of concrete, but it is valued locally as a horticultural plant. 

Tinkerbell fairyfly, Tinkerbella nana

Image courtesy of College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State of New York (USA)

At just 250 micrometres across, the only pictures of these insects have come from under scanning electron microscopes it is one of the smallest known flying arthropods, but even though it may sound delightful, this parasitic wasp found in the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica where it develops in the eggs of other small insects and is presumed to have a lifespan of only a few days.

Clean room microbes Tersicoccus phoenicis

Image courtesy of College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State of New York (USA)

Proof that life always finds a way, these microorganisms are found in the sterilised rooms where spacecraft are assembled, theoretically allowing them to invade other planets. Two different colonies were found both at NASA, Florida and at the European Space Agency’s base in Guiana. They can tolerate extreme dryness, wide variations in pH, temperature and salt concentration as well as exposure to UV light or Hydrogen Peroxide.

Orange Penicillium Penicillium vanoranjei

Image courtesy of College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State of New York (USA)

Named for the Dutch royal family, it displays large orange colonies when cultured, it was isolated from a soil sample in Tunisia. Fungi are one of the many areas of life where we a severely lacking knowledge which may have implications for the future of fields such as medicine and farming, in the case of P.vanoranjei it is thought that the extra cellular matrix may protect the fungus from desiccation in the desert.

Andrill anemone Edwardsiella andrillae

Image courtesy of College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State of New York (USA)

Living under a glacier of the Ross Ice Shelf, scientists are unsure how this creature withstands the harsh conditions of sub-zero temperatures and very little light, it’s name is derived from the company that discovered it the Antarctic Geological Drilling Programme (ANDRILL). It is around 2.5 cm long, its body burrowed into the ice while its two dozen tentacles dangle in the freezing water below.

By Alex Caldwell

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