Within the past year, scientists have discovered and named 18,000 new species, only a small fraction of the estimated ten million yet to be discovered. A global committee of taxonomists and experts from the International Institute for Species Exploration recently announced the top 10 most interesting species discovered during the past year.
First on the list and a relative of the raccoon, the Olinguito lives in forests of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. This carnivore is best classified as a mix between a cat and a wide-eyed teddy bear. Currently, deforestation of the Olinguito's habitat poses a threat to its population.
Nearly 40 feet tall, the Kaweesak's Dragon Tree, another of the species on the list, is found in the limestone mountains of Thailand. Its soft, sword-shaped leaves with white edges complement its cream-colored flowers sporting orange filaments. Ongoing limestone mining for cement, in addition to the tree's small numbers prompt the species to be listed as endangered.
A third species joining the top ten, the ANDRILL Anemone, were discovered by the Antarctic Geological Drilling Program team living in a glacier. It is the first species of sea anemone found that can survive in ice, though scientists are not sure how it withstands extremely harsh conditions. This small creature is less than an inch in length and has a pale yellow complexion.
Found in a cave on the island of Santa Catalina off the coast of Southern California, the skeletal shrimp—the fourth on the list—is the smallest of its species, ranging from two to three millimeters in length. Discovered by divers, the shrimp has an eerie, translucent appearance. In contrast, the Orange Penicillium, named as a tribute to the Dutch Royal Family of Orange, Netherlands, appears bright orange when produced in colonies. Another of the creatures on the list, this fungus produces a secretion, known as extra-cellular matrix that may help it resist droughts.
An extremely rare species is number six on the list. The Leaf-tailed Gecko was discovered in isolated rainforests on the rocky terrains of the Melville Range in northeastern Australia. These creatures are distinguished by their uncommonly wide, leaf-shaped tail that they use for camouflage.
A perhaps unlikely living being to join the list, the Amoeboid Protist is a single-celled organism extending an amazing four to five centimeters in length. This carnivorous organism uses fragments of sponge skeleton to construct a protective shell for itself. Interestingly, it was discovered 30 miles off the coast of Spain in caves of the Mediterranean where carnivorous sponges were first discovered as well.
The eighth species on the list and a type of clean room microbe, the Tersicoccus phoenicis, is found in facilities where spacecraft are assembled and may potentially contaminate other planets. Scientists independently collected these microbes from two clean rooms, 2,500 miles apart. They are potentially hazardous because they can withstand conditions like extreme dryness, a wide range of pH, and exposure to UV light or hydrogen peroxide.
The Tinkerbella nana, Latin for Tinkerbell Fairyfly, is the ninth species on the list and one of the smallest known insects, measuring only one fourth of a millimeter. The fairyfly was discovered in secondary-growth forests in Costa Rica and the insect's lifespan is thought to be no more than a few days.
Lastly, the Domed Land Snail discovered nearly 3,000 feet below the surface in caves in Western Croatia, tops off the list at number ten. Since it lives in complete darkness, the snail lacks eyes as well as shell pigmentation, therefore appearing ghost-like. Only two millimeters in length, the snail moves a few centimeters or less per week, which is a speed slower than the average snail.
Scientists find lists like this inspiring because they serve as a reminder that many species, and not just those on the microscopic scale, still remain to be discovered.
[Sources: outsideonline.com; esf.edu]