May 23, 2011 --
Earth isn't such a small world after all. In fact, plenty of animals, plants, fungi and more new to science are turning up every day. Each year, the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University compiles a list of the top 10 new species, be they the most interesting, unique or downright bizarre. We begin with the Louisiana pancake batfish, a flat, oval-shaped fish that hops, rather than swims, along the seafloor with its rear fins. This deep-water creature, which lives around 1,500 feet below the surface, was threatened last year by encroaching oil as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
© Cassius V. Stevani/IQ-USP, Brazil
These glow-in-the-dark mushrooms are native to a disappearing forest habitat near São Paulo, Brazil. Growing to a mere 8 millimeters tall, these mushrooms, known as Mycena luxaeterna, meaning eternal light mushrooms, emit their eerie neon-green glow 24 hours a day. Although there are an estimated 1.5 million species of fungi on Earth, only 71 species are thought to be bioluminescent.
© Matjaž Kuntner
Named after Charles Darwin, this Darwin bark spider (Caerostris darwini) can build webs that stretch along entire rivers. The largest discovered so far was 82 feet (25 meters) long. The silk woven by this arachnid architect is twice as strong as any other known spider silk. A similarly sized piece of Kevlar is one-tenth as strong as this spider's silk. Considering how large the webs are and how strong their silk is, you'd figure this spiders would be massive. But you'd be wrong. Females are no larger than 2 centimeters (less than an inch) in body size and males are five times smaller.
This toothy leech was discovered in the nose of a young girl in Peru. Known as Tyrannobdella rex, meaning "tyrant leech king," this blood sucker is found in the remote regions of the Upper Amazon in Peru. Although the leech is less than two inches in length, it has what its discoverers have called "enormous teeth" in a single jaw. The earliest member of this family of leeches lived about 200 million years ago, around the time of the dinosaurs. So it's entirely possible that this leech's ancestor spent its time up the nose of a Tyrannosaurus rex. There are some 700 known species of leeches worldwide.
How could this brightly colored, six-foot-long lizard go unnoticed for so long? Although the Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard (Varanus bitatawa is easy enough to spot in this photo, this animal managed to evade notice due to the fact that it rarely leaves the trees in which it resides in the forests of the Philippines. Unlike its Komodo dragon relative, this lizard is primarily a vegetarian, living on fruit, figs, nuts and the occasional snail. This lizard is the only reptile to make the top 10.
Courtesy of Mike Picker
If you think this insect looks like a cross between a cockroach and a grasshopper, you wouldn't be far off. This leaproach (Altoblattella montistabularis) is a new type of cockroach with modified rear legs that gives it jumping ability on par with a grasshopper. Although jumping cockroaches existed during the Late Jurassic, they had previously not been found in the modern age.
© Robert Coffan
This gilled mushroom was observed staying submerged for over 11 week in the upper Rogue River in Oregon. This fungus, Psathyrella aquatica, is the first known mushroom species found fruiting underwater.
Drawing courtesy of Yann Le Bris
First found at a bushmeat market in West Africa, this new antelope surprised scientists because it belonged to a well studied group of animals. This new species (Philantomba walteri) may have first been collected in 1968 in Badou, Togo, by its namesake, Walter N. Verheyen, an African mammals researcher. The antelope is the only mammal on the top 10 list.
Courtesy of RMS Titanic Inc.
This unique species of rust-loving bacteria was found on the sunken remains of the RMS Titanic, seen here located 12,600 below the surface. The bacteria eat iron-oxide and they're not doing the remains of the Titanic any favors: The microbes stick to metal surfaces and creates knob-like mounds that eat away at the Titanic.
New species aren’t always discovered in remote locations, as an otherwise unknown beetle recently found in a busy metropolis proves.
The aquatic beetle, Hydraena ataneo, was even found on a bustling university campus full of entomologists eager to make such discoveries. It would be like King Midas tripping over a gold brick, existing there for ages right under his feet.
I hope the discovery inspires students to pay attention to what’s on their own campuses. In this case, students undergoing field training at Ateneo de Manila University, in Manila, Philippines, made the find. Manila is the world’s 10th largest megacity. (A megacity is a metropolitan area with a total population in excess of 10 million people.)
The students from the university’s biology department sampled small creeks, ponds and pools in wooded areas within their sprawling university campus. The hunt was a huge success. They found seven species of water beetles, including this new species. It sports long deely-bopper-type appendages that wiggle around as it moves.
The “deely bopper” isn’t an antenna — it’s part of the bug’s feeding tools.
“I was so amazed that there are new species even in the Ateneo Campus in the middle of Manila,” said Arielle Vidal, who at the time of find was enrolled in the department’s life sciences program. “Then I was sure that I wanted to write my thesis on a taxonomic topic.”
Kimberly Go, her thesis partner, added that they “pushed through and investigated a remote river catchment in Mindoro. We found several new species of the same genus there, too.”
Hendrik Freitag, their thesis adviser and author of a recent ZooKeys paper on the bug, explained, “The long-palped water beetles (genus Hydraena) are in fact one of the most overlooked and diverse genera of aquatic beetles. Only 14 species of this genus — all endemic — are known from the country by now, but many more wait to be named and described.
“All of them display these extremely enlarged palps of the maxilla. These are real mouthpart appendages and not the antennae. Those species that were found in the Ateneo campus must have re-colonized the area after the tree cover has re-established in the last 50 years and the small creeks began to flow again.”
The urban deely bopper beetle has since been spotted outside of the university campus too.
Clister Pangantihon and Dr. Ronald Lagat, both facilitators of the Philippine Aquatic Biodiversity Workshop held at Ateneo earlier this year confirmed, “We found Hydraena ataneo also in the neighboring Province of Cavite during our workshop.”
Museums are full of dried up bugs that scientists have collected, not knowing what they were. Now that this species has been documented, other examples of it were found in such a collection at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria, which boasts the world’s largest scientific collection of water beetles.
This latest study goes to show that small patches of semi-natural habitats can thrive within densely populated and highly urbanized cities and suburbs. Maybe your own backyard is one such oasis?
Image: H. Freitag, Ateneo de Manila University