Slide Show: Top 10 New Species Discovered in 2008
From the smallest sea horse to a naturally decaffeinated coffee tree, the International Institute for Species Exploration's annual top 10 list proves that Earth is still full of bizarre and fascinating plants and animals awaiting human discovery
Credits: JOHN SEAR
EXTRA-HOLD BACTERIA Spray-on bacteria? Indeed. Japanese researchers discovered a new breed of bacteria that lives—and thrives—in hair spray. The strain,
Microbacterium hatanois, was isolated from hair spray and is known as an extremophile because of its ability to live in extreme environments.
Microbacterium are known to thrive in less harsh locales, such as dairy and meats. But this brand of aerobic, rod-shaped bacteria appears to be quite at home in hair spray. At the time the study was published, the researchers were still investigating whether the new species would cause any harm to humans, and the lead researcher noted that the discovery should help to prevent future contamination. "Contamination of cosmetic products is rare," Mohammad Abdul Bakir from the Japan Collection of Microorganisms said in a statement, "but some products may be unable to suppress the growth of certain bacteria." ISTOCKPHOTO/PICSFIVE
DECAF--AU NATUREL The charrier coffee plant (
Coffea charrieriana) is the first natural caffeine-free java plant from Central Africa. Found in Cameroon, the plant was growing in the Bakossi Forest Reserve in Southwest Province. Charrier coffee could become a natural stand-in for the genetically modified decaf coffee plants researchers presented in 2003, not to mention the chemical process currently used to remove caffeine from beans—which, as the blog "Coffee Hero" notes, "results in reduced flavor." FRANCOIS ANTHONY/UNIVERSITY OF MONTPELLIER II
LIVE-BIRTH FISH Although the mother fish (
Materpiscis attenboroughi) is about 380 million years old—and seems to have died out with other inhabitants of the Devonian period—its discovery was still one for the books. It is currently the oldest known vertebrate known to have given live birth (rather than via eggs). The fossil, found in the Kimberley Region in northwestern Australia, shows that the fish was in the process of giving birth when it died—revealing signs of an umbilical cord and an attached baby.
"The basic body plan that makes us a vertebrate was already present 380 million years ago," Kate Trinajstic, from the University of Western Australia, who assisted in the excavation, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "Evolution after these fishes has just been fine-tuning, rather than making new structures." JOHN A. LONG/MESUEM VICTORIA
TRUE BLUE This new damselfish, the deep blue chromis (
Chromis abyssus), has kept its vivid blue spots well hidden from humans, hanging around reefs and rock outcroppings below 375 feet (115 meters) in the western Pacific region around Palau, an island country east of the Philippines. The deep blue chromis, which even has butterflylike iridescent spots on its dorsal rays, is an average of about 3.9 inches (10 centimeters) long. RICHARD PYLE Advertisement
SWIRLING SNAIL The shell of the fantastic
Opisthostoma vermiculum snail looks rather more like an elaborate Dr. Seuss instrument than a product of Darwinian evolution. Although most snails slither under a spiral shell that wraps tightly around a single axis as it grows, this new species, discovered in Malaysia, boasts four separate axes—making it the most convoluted snail known. The shells are just 0.04 inch (one millimeter) long and were found on a karst formation where conditions are damp, but the snails that inhabit them have yet to be observed. After the find, Reuben Clements, a conservation manager for the World Wide Fund for Nature, told The New York Times: "I thought it was one of mother nature's practical jokes." CLEMENTS/WORLD WILDLIFE FUND FOR NATURE—MALAYSIA
SPOOKY SLUG The ghost slug (
Selenochlamys ysbryda) surprised researchers, who hardly expected to come across a novel creature in well-combed Wales. Nevertheless, the slug—discovered in a Cardiff garden—is actually carnivorous, rather than a plant and detritus muncher like most other slugs, a report from the BBC noted. To kill and eat earthworms, the nocturnal slug uses rows of long, bladelike teeth. The good news for U.K. gardeners is that it isn't targeting plants, but an ecologist at a local university still says they are relying on the public to help report new sightings and determine whether it will become a more widespread backyard specter. BEN ROWSON/NATIONAL MUSEUM WHALES
SLIGHT SLITHER Ophidiophobes, take heart. Researchers have discovered the world's smallest snake. Tiny enough to slither on the face of a quarter, the Barbados threadsnake (
Leptotyphlops carlae) slinks in at about 4.1 inches (10.4 centimeters) long. Blair Hedges, a professor of biology at The Pennsylvania State University found the small female under a rock near Bonwell, Barbados, and named it after his wife, Carla. Hedges describes the extreme size as a function of the island environment in his "Zootaxa" paper: "Island colonists encounter novel environments…allowing species to evolve physical traits, including extremes in size, not normally seen on continents." S. BLAIR HEDGES/PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY
SCALED-DOWN SEA HORSE This smallest sea horse swims in at an average length of just 0.54 inch (13.7 millimeters). Discovered off the coast of the Derawan Island in Indonesian Borneo, Satomi's pygmy sea horse (
Hippocampus satomiae) comes out a nose-length smaller than the Hippocampus denise, which was discovered in 2003 at an average of 0.63 inch long (16 millimeters). The humble horse is named for Satomi Onishi, a dive guide who collected the specimens. JOHN SEAR Advertisement
STRETCH BUG Don't mistake this lanky insect for a plain old stick. At 22.3 inches (56.7 centimeters) from end to end, it is officially the longest insect in the world, notes the IISE. It even beat out former record holder
Phobaeticus kirbyi (about 21 inches, or 53 centimeters).
Known informally as "Chan's megastick" (as an ode to the amateur naturalist Datuk Chan Chew Lun, who acquired the insect in Borneo), the insect's formal name is Phobaeticus chani. Philip Bragg, who published the article identifying the insect last year, told the Associated Press that its discovery only goes to show that "There aren't enough specialists around to work on all the insects in the world. There's going to be stuff that's extinct before anyone gets around to describing it." PHIL BRAGG/PHASMID STUDY GROUP
FLOWER FATALE This massive, 60-foot- (18.3-meter-) tall palm plant flowers only once in its 35- to 50-year life, but to put on such a show saps so much of its energy that it causes the plant to die soon afterward.
The Tahina palm ( Tahina spectabilis)—which is a new genus as well as species—was discovered by a French cashew plantation owner and his family in northern Madagascar, reported the Telegraph of London; since the discovery scientists have found fewer than 100 individuals. It seems to be only distantly related to the more than 170 palm species in the island nation, and its closest relatives are found across the Indian Ocean in Thailand, Vietnam and China. Since the species was announced, botanic gardens and arboretums have been given seeds to help propagate the rare species. DOHN DRANSFIELD/KEW GARDENS Advertisement