The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University
announces the 2012 Top 10 New Species List. This was not a trivial task, as there were over 18,000 new species named in 2012. Not all were totally unknown, merely they had not come to the attention of taxonomists. The list was established to draw attention to biodiversity and the work of the researchers and their institutions. It is announced on or about Carolus Linnaeus’ birthday May 23rd.
This year’s top 10.
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 ecoregion. 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 cm tall.
A spectacular, large, harp- or lyre-shaped carnivorous sponge discovered in deep water (ave. 3399 m) 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 items.
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, and was first seen by scientists as a captive juvenile in 2007. Scientists describe the lesula as shy having human like eyes. It is more easily heard than seen by the booming dawn chorus it performs. Adult males have a large bare patch of skin on the buttocks, testicles, and perineum that is brilliant blue in color. Although the area where it occurs is remote, the species is hunted for bushmeat and thus its status vulnerable.
A beautiful new species of snail-eating snake has been discovered from highland rainforests of western Panama. The snake is nocturnal and a predator of 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. Mining of ore deposits in the Serrania de Tabasara mountain range where the species is found is degrading and diminishing its habitat. The species name is derived from the Spanish phrase “No a la mina,” or No to the Mine.
In 2001, black stains began to appear on the walls of Lascaux Cave in France. These stains were so prevalent by 2007 that they became one of the major concerns for the conservation of the precious rock art at the site that dates from the Upper Palaeolithic. A white fungus, Fusarium solani, outbreak had been successfully treated when, a few months later, black staining fungi appeared. The genus primarily includes fungi occurring in the soil and associated with the decomposition of plant matter. While this, one of two new species of the genus from Lascaux, is as far as known harmless, at least one species of the group,
O. gallopava, causes diseases in immunocompromised humans.
Living vertebrate animals range in size more than 3,000 fold, from this tiny new species of frog as small as 7 mm to the blue whale measuring in at 25.8 m. The new frog was discovered near Amau village in Papua, New Guinea. It claims the title of smallest living vertebrate from a tiny Southeast Asian cyprinid fish that captured the record in 2006. The adult frog size, averaging length of both males and females, is only 7.7mm. With few exceptions, this and other ultra-small frogs have been found in association with moist leaf litter in tropical wet forests suggesting a unique ecological guild that could not exist under drier circumstances.
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 only 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 km long, the littoral forest has been reduced to isolated, vestigial fragments under pressure from human populations.
Luminescence among terrestrial animals is rather rare and best known among certain groups of beetles — fireflies and certain click beetles in particular — and 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 only found 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. It is known from a single specimen collected 70 years ago from an area recently in Ecuador 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.
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. Dr. 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 Dr. Stephen J. Brooks at London’s Natural History Museum who confirmed its new species status. The three joined forces preparing a description using Google Docs. In this triumph for citizen science, talents from around the globe collaborated by new media in making the discovery. It is named, by the way, for Winterton’s daughter, Jade, not its color.
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 charactersized 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 the explosive radiation of flowering plants.
It is an amazing world we live in, all interconnected, in which every plant, animal, fungus, bacteria, and protist plays an integral part. The disturbing part of this is that many biologists consider we are in the midst of a human caused great extinction event, where many of these organisms will disappear. Recognizing the endangered species and working to protect sensitive environments can make a difference, but with the population continuing to increase, it will be a difficult task.