Tuesday, 27 May 2014 | MYT 9:20 PM

Dragon tree to fairy fly: Top 10 new species of 2014 will dazzle you

A cross between a sleek cat and a wide-eyed teddy bear that lives in Andean cloud forests and an eyeless snail that lives more than 900m below ground in Croatia rank among the top 10 new species discovered in 2013.

Released on May 22, the list – published annually since 2008 – is intended to draw attention to the fact that researchers continue to discover new species. Nearly 18,000 were identified in 2013, adding to the two million known to science. 

Elusive: The Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko (Saltuarius eximius) is perfectly camouflaged in its natural surroundings and the domed land snail (Zospeum tholussum), eyeless and carrying a transparent shell, lives in underground caves.  

An international committee of taxonomists and other experts, assembled by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, selects the top 10. The list is released in time for the May 23 birthday of Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish botanist considered the founder of modern taxonomy.

Scientists believe nature holds another 10 million undiscovered species, from single-celled organisms to mammals, and worry that thousands are becoming extinct faster than they are being identified, said entomologist Quentin Wheeler, president of the environmental science college, part of the State University of New York.

Looks can be deceiving: Even though they don't look the part, these are living organisms. The amoeboid protist (Spiculosiphon oceana) (above) lives in the sea and builds its spiky body from loose bits of silica. The orange penicillium (Penicillium vanoranjei) (below) is a fungus that produces bright orange-coloured colonies. 

“The top 10 is designed to bring attention to the unsung heroes addressing the biodiversity crisis by working to complete an inventory of earth’s plants, animals and microbes,” he said in a statement.

Like previous lists, this one shows that even large species can elude scientists. One top-10, for instance, is the olinguito, the cat-bear amalgam from the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador. The 2kg raccoon relative is the first carnivorous mammal discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.

Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) (above), the first carnivorous mammal discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years. Kaweesak's dragon tree (Dracaena kaweesakii), from Thailand, can reach heights of 12m - sadly it's already endangered barely a year after its scientific discovery. 

Scientists had long missed an even bigger quarry: the 12m dragon tree of Thailand, which has soft, sword-shaped leaves and cream-coloured flowers with orange filaments. People living in the area know of it but scientists didn’t.

Completely unknown species

No one knew about some other entries. A submersible exploring beneath Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf discovered a yellow 2.5cm sea anemone that burrows into the ice and dangles two dozen tentacles in the frigid water.

They came from nowhere: A colony of ANDRILL anemones (Edwardsiella andrillae) (above) dangle from the bottom of the Antarctic ice shelf like icicles. 'Clean room microbes' (Tersicoccus phoenicis) (below), which earned its name after being discovered in NASA's cleaning rooms for space equipment – even after workers had scrubbed everything down. 

More alarmingly, scientists had no idea of the existence of microbes that survived attempts to sterilise clean rooms where spacecraft are assembled – one in Florida and one in French Guiana – and which threaten to hitch a ride to other worlds.

Explorers arguably get a pass for failing to discover the Tinkerbell fairyfly of Costa Rica. At 250 micrometres across, it’s one of the smallest known insects.

Tiny and scary: The tinkerbell fairyfly (Tinkerbella nana) (above) is so tiny that it's invisible to the human eye. Meanwhile, the skeleton shrimp (Liropus minusculus) (below) could've been the source of new unimaginable nightmares were it not so small. 

“We are very far from having exhausted the knowledge of the biodiversity on Earth,” said zoologist Antonio Valdecasas of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, Spain, and chair of the top-10 committee.

Without knowing what exists, humans will not know if something disappears or moves in response to climate change or other environmental disruption, the committee warned. – Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Features , Science , Nature , Animal , Top 10 , discovery , species , new , Taxonomy , list


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