A mysterious Australian deep sea mushroom-like species and a new coral-like plant are among the curious creatures named in this year’s Top Ten Species list.
The annual list, established in 2008 by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), draws attention to discoveries in nature.
In the 2015 list, there’s a cartwheeling spider, a bird-like dinosaur and a fish which wriggles around on the sea floor to create a circular nesting site.
Two animals — a frog that gives birth to tadpoles and a wasp that uses dead ants to protect its nest — are unusual because of their parenting practices.
The list is compiled by ESF’s International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE). The institute’s international committee of taxonomists selected the Top 10 from among about 18,000 new species named during the previous year.
Scientists believe 10 million species await discovery, five times the number already known.
The Top 10 Species of 2015:
Feathered Dinosaur: Chicken from Hell
Anzu wyliei, a bird-like group of dinosaurs which lived in North America, was a contemporary of T. rex and Triceratops. The species made nests and sat on the eggs until they hatched. Because some caenagnathids were chicken-sized, this new dinosaur was dubbed “chicken from Hell”. However, at more than 3.5 metres in length, 1.5 metres high and weighing 200 kg to 300 kg, this was no chicken.
Coral Plant: Atypical Tubers
This parasitic plant, Balanophora coralliformis, has elongated, repeatedly branching, and rough-textured aboveground tubers. These peculiar tubers give this root parasite from the Philippines a coral-like appearance. Parasitic plants do not contain chlorophyll and are incapable of photosynthesis so they draw their nutrition from other living plants. This species is, known from fewer than 50 plants, all found between 1,465 metres and 1,735 metres elevation on the southwestern slopes of Mt Mingan in mossy forest areas. Because so few plants are known to exist, and the narrow area in which they live is unprotected, the scientists who described it consider the plant critically endangered.
Cartwheeling Spider: Spinning in the Sand
This arachnid, Cebrennus rechenbergi, uses a gymnast’s trick to escape from threatening situations — it cartwheels its way out of danger. The spider first assumes a threatening posture. If the danger persists, the spider runs. About half the time that running turns into cartwheeling which is twice as fast. Rather than attempting to cartwheel away, the spider heads toward the source of the threat. In the barren sand dunes where the spider lives, running away can prove pointless because there is no place to hide. The high temperatures of its desert habitat would be fatal to the spider if it persisted in this high-energy routine for long.
The X-Phyla: Mysterious Newcomers
Dendrogramma enigmatica and a second new species, D. discoids, are multicellular animals which look like mushrooms, with a mouth at the end of the “stem” and the other end in the form of a flattened disc. The best information suggests that they are related to the phylum Cnidaria (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones and hydras) or Ctenophora (comb jellies) or both but the new animals lack evolutionary novelties unique to either. They also resemble fossils from Precambrian time, perhaps making them living fossils. The mystery surrounding this animal accounts for its name and its relationships are likely to remain enigmatic until specimens can be collected suitable for DNA analysis. The new animal is small, with a stalk less than 8 mm in length and a “cap” which measures less 11 mm across. It was found on the sea floor, at a depth of about 1,000 metres, off Point Hicks, Victoria.
Bone-house Wasp: Morbid Motherhood
This insect, Deuteragenia ossarium, about a 15 mm in length, has a unique way to protect its offspring. The wasp constructs nests in hollow stems with several cells, each separated by soil walls. The wasp kills and deposits one spider in each cell to provide nourishment for her developing young. Once her egg is laid, she seals off the cell and hunts a spider for the next cell. Rather than provisioning the final or vestibule cell with a spider, she fills it with as many as 13 bodies of dead ants, thus creating a chemical barrier to the nest. This is the first animal known to take this approach to securing the front door to a nest. This species, found in Gutianshan National Nature Reserve in eastern China, has significantly lower parasitism rates than similar cavity-nesting wasps. Camouflage is supplied by a veil of volatile chemicals emitted by the dead ants, thwarting enemies which hunt by scent.
Indonesian Frog: A Tad Unusual
Unlike other frogs, Limnonectes larvaepartus from Sulawesi Island, Indonesia, gives birth to live tadpoles rather than eggs. The species, about 40 mm long, is found in the island’s Northern Peninsula on the western edge of the Central Core. The region has not been fully explored for frogs, so the extent of this species’ range is not yet known. The frogs live in natural and disturbed forest habitats, often in areas occupied by one to five other species of the same genus. The frogs are found above flowing streams in leaf litter, grassy vegetation, or on rocky substrates.
Walking Stick: Not So Giant
While this new stick insect is not the world’s biggest, it belongs to a family known as giant sticks. Phryganistria tamdaeoensis is compelling evidence that, despite their size, more giant sticks remain to be discovered. This insect is common in the town of Tam Dao visited by many entomologists yet it escaped notice until now. The newcomer gets its name from the Tam Dao National Park in a mountainous area in the northwestern part of Vietnam.
Sea Slug: Beauty of the Deep
It is a “missing link” between sea slugs which feed on hydroids and those specialising on corals. This new species, in shades of blue, red and gold, also contributes to a better understanding of the origin of an unusual symbiosis. Related sea slugs have multi-branched guts in which algae called zooanthellae live. These algae have a primary symbiotic relationship with the corals on which the sea slugs feed. Once in the gut, the photosynthetic algae produce nutrients of benefit to the host. The newly identified species is 17-28 mm long and lives in the Japanese islands.
Bromeliad: Feliz Navidad
During Christmas celebrations in Mexico, elaborate altar scenes or nacimientos depicting the birth of Christ are assembled by villagers. In Sierra de Tepoztlán, Tlayacapan, San José de los Laureles, and Tepoztlán, a beautiful bromeliad plant is frequently incorporated in the display. The plant turned out to be new to science. Tillandsia religiosa, with its rose-coloured spikes and flat green leaves, can be found growing up to 1.5 metres tall in rocky habitat in northern regions of Morelos, Mexico. The bromeliad is an example of a species long known to local inhabitants but only recently discovered by science.
Pufferfish: Crop Circles under the Sea
Scientists solved a 20-year-old mystery under the sea and discovered a new fish. Intricate circles with geometric designs about 2 meters across on the sea floor off the coast of Amami-Ōshima Island, were as weird and unexplained as crop circles. They turn out to be the work of a species of pufferfish, Torquigener albomaculosus. Males construct these circles as spawning nests by swimming and wriggling in the seafloor sand. The nests, used only once, are made to attract females. The nests have double edges and radiating troughs in a spoke-like geometry. The design isn’t just for show. Scientists discovered the ridges and grooves of the circle serve to minimise ocean current at the center of the nest. This protects the eggs from the turbulent waters.
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