The 10 best new species of the year


US college releases its annual list of the bold, the beautiful, and the just plain weird. Andrew Masterson reports.


The critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan, which lives in the south of Sumatra, was only discovered in the last year.
The critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan, which lives in the south of Sumatra, was only discovered in the last year.
Andrew Walmsley

And the winners are …

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, US, every year releases a list of the 10 most incredible species discovered during the previous 12 months.

This year’s list features lifeforms great and small, from a single-celled organism to a 62 tonne tree.

The College has been putting out the list since 2008. It is an exercise intended to remind the rest of us of the extraordinary biodiversity that exists on the planet – and the fact that many thousands of species still remain to be discovered.

“We name about 18,000 per year but we think at least 20,000 per year are going extinct,” says spokesperson Quentin Wheeler.

“So many of these species – if we don't find them, name them and describe them now – will be lost forever. And yet they can teach us so much about the intricacies of ecosystems and the details of evolutionary history.”

This year’s top 10 are:

Cave beetle (Xuedytes bellus)

Just nine millimetres long, this beetle lives in permanent darkness and was discovered in a cave in Du’an in the Guangxi Province of China. It has a spectacularly elongated head.

Marsupial lion (Wakaleo schouteni)

Scientists from University of New South Wales unearthed the first fossil of this previously unknown ancient Australian predator in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in Queensland. An omnivore and about the size of a large dog, the predator lived about 23 million years ago and spent at least part of its life living in trees.

Volcanic bacteria (Thiolava veneris)

Three years after an underwater volcano called Tagoro erupted off the coast of El Hierro in the Canary Islands, destroying much of the surrounding marine system, scientists found a new species of bacteria had colonised the newly formed seabed. The species manifested as a dense white mat covering about 2000 square metres – perfectly adapted, it seems, to an environment defined by low levels of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide.

Fungus-loving plant (Sciaphila sugimotoi)

Standing just 10 centimetres high, this newly discovered plant lives in a symbiotic relationship with a species of fungus, deriving much of its nutrition from its partner. It was found on Ishigaki Island, off the coast of Japan, and produces delicate and rather pretty flowers between September and October.

Swire’s snailfish (Pseudoliparis swirei)

This small, tadpole-like fish lives in the depths of the Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific ocean. Specimens were recovered at depths between 7000 and 8000 metres, making it the deepest-dwelling fish ever discovered.

Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensisi)

An entirely new species of great ape, living in the southern reaches of Sumatra, the Tapanuli orangutan is critically endangered. Genomic analysis found that it diverged from the two other known species of orangutan some 3.38 million years ago.

Camouflage beetle (Nymphister kronaueri)

Native to Costa Rica, this beetle went undiscovered for so long because it looks exactly like a worker army ant of the species Eciton mexicanum. Just 1.5 millimetres long, it lives among the ant colonies, accompanying them on long and brutal foraging raids.

New amphipod (Epimeria quasimodo)

This 50 millimetre miniature crustacean lives in the waters of the Antarctic. It is covered in spines and brightly coloured – and reminded the scientists who discovered it of Victor Hugo’s most famous literary creation, hence its name.

Atlantic forest tree (Dinizia jueirana-facao)

A legume, this tree native to the Atlantic forest of Brazil, stands 40 metres high and weighs an estimated 62 tonnes. Only 25 examples have so far been found.

A new protist (Ancoracysta twista)

The true habitat of this newly discovered type of single-celled organism is unknown, because the only specimens so far discovered were living in an aquarium, inhabiting some coral. It is a predator that propels itself with a whip, or flagellum, and is thought to represent a very early lineage of complex cells, or eukaryotes. So far, it has no known living relatives.

  1. http://www.esf.edu/top10/
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