With the ubiquity of Google Maps and cheap international flights it often seems that we, as a species, know good old planet Earth like the back of our collective hands. Today’s list of the top new species from Arizona State University aims to show us just how much more we have left to discover.
This year’s list includes a frog which is less than half the size of a 5p coin, a monkey with uncannily human eyes, and a carnivorous deep sea sponge shaped like a harp.
"I don't know whether to be more astounded by the species discovered each year, or the depths of our ignorance about biodiversity of which we are a part,” said Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the International Institute of Species Exploration - the body responsible for collating the list.
Each year the Institute - a global committee of taxonomists - select their top 10 from over 140 nominated species. Nominations can be botanical, zoological or microbiological, but must have been named in the previous year.
This is the sixth edition of the list, with the date of its announcement – May 23 –chosen to coincide with the birthday of Carl Linnaeus, the 18 Swedish zoologist and botanist who is considered the father of modern taxonomy.
In a statement released by Arizona State University, home of the Institute, Wheeler explained the continuing need to shine a light on species discovery. "For decades, we have averaged 18,000 species discoveries per year which seemed reasonable before the biodiversity crisis. Now, knowing that millions of species may not survive the 21st century, it is time to pick up the pace."
"At the same time we search the heavens for other earth-like planets, we should make it a high priority to explore the biodiversity on the most earth-like planet of them all: Earth."
Top Ten New Species discovered in 2012:
Named after Jonathan Swift’s race of 6-inch tall humans, this species of violet is one of the smallest in the world. Only known to be found in a single area in the plateaus of the Peruvian Andes, the Viola lilliputana is smaller even than Swift’s fictional Lilliputians, with the above-ground portion of the plant standing less than a centimetre tall.
Country: NE Pacific Ocean; USA: California
One of the oddest-looking of the year’s announcement, this deep-sea harp-sponge use tiny Velcro-like hooks on its vertical ‘strings’ to snare plankton, before it coats them in a thin membrane and digests them. The sponge’s horizontal veins number between two and six, making the plant occasionally look like more of an upside-down chandelier. This unusual structure maximises its surface area, making for more frequent feedings.
Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Described by researchers as shy and quiet, the lesula monkey certainly looks reserved, with its distinctly calm, almost human-looking eyes. Discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the lesula is an Old World monkey – which means it has a tail (as opposed to tail-less apes), but can’t use it (as the prehensile New World monkeys can). The lesula may look placid but is also known for its booming dawn chorus.
The unusual name for this species derives from the Spanish phrase ‘No a la mina’, or ‘No to the mine’, referring to the harmful ore mining that is destroying the creature’s habitat in the Serranía de Tabasará mountain range. Apart from the snails and slugs it hunts at night, the snake noalamina is harmless, mimicking the dark and light stripes of the venomous coral snake to scare off predators.
Found exclusively on the walls of Lascaux Cave in France, this black fungus was inadvertently nurtured by human intervention. The caves - famous for their Paleolithic art thought to be 17,300 years old – were treated with chemicals to stop the paintings being destroyed by a fungal invasion. The original white fungus was eradicated, but from the destruction emerged this new species.
Country: New Guinea
With an average size of only 7.7 millimeters across, this frog is the smallest living vertebrate – that is, an animal with a spine. Like other ultra-small frogs, the paedophyrne amanuensis makes it home in the carpet of fallen leaves found in tropical rainforests. Discovered in Papua New Guinea this new species can leap more than 30 times its body length.
The rainforests of Madagascar are well known for harbouring some of the country’s unique and fascinating species. But in this case it seems that researchers couldn’t see the wood for the trees. The Eugenia petrikensis is a new species of shrub with magenta flowers and emerald green leaves, found only in the coastal forests and sandy soil of Madagascar’s eastern shoreline.
Bioluminescence – the production of light by living organisms– is rare amongst terrestrial species, and in cockroaches it’s found in only a dozen or so species. Sporting two brightly glowing spots on its back, the lucihormetica luckae is one the few. The pattern is thought to warn off predators by imitating the appearance of a highly toxic beetle that is also luminescent. The luchiormetica itself is completely harmless.
In a success for social media and science, this is the first species that has been discovered after its photo was shared on Flickr. The photographer, Hock Ping Guek, snapped the lacewing in a park near Kuala Lumpur, and uploaded it online where it was seen by Shaun Winterton, a Californian entomologist. After a specimen was collected the new species was confirmed by Stephen Brooks at the London Natural History Museum. Fittingly, the announcement was made via Google docs.
The species of hangingfly (so-called because they hang around underneath foliage to eat other insects) was a master mimic. Discovered in 165 million year-old fossils, the ginkgofolia was found among the leaves of the ginkgo tree that it resembled. The deception was so perfect that even as fossils the insect and plant are easily confused.