South Africas Devils Worm makes Top 10 species list

A collage of the various worm species.


South Africa's Devil's Worm, Halicephalobus mephisto, made the Top 10 new species list for 2011 run and released by the the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of scientists from around the world. This is the fifth year for the top 10 new species list, which was released May 23 to coincide with the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who was responsible for the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications.

Also on the Top 10 are night-blooming orchid, a sneezing monkey, a a fungus named after TV cartoon character Sponge Bob and an ancient walking cactus creature. The other species include a venomous jellyfish, a tiny wasp, a blue tarantula, a vibrant poppy and a giant millipede.

“The top 10 is intended to bring attention to the biodiversity crisis and the unsung species explorers and museums who continue a 250-year tradition of discovering and describing the millions of kinds of plants, animals and microbes with whom we share this planet,” said Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist who directs the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU.

Members of the international committee who made their selection from more than 200 nominations look for “species that capture our attention because they are unusual or because they have traits that are bizarre,” said Mary Liz Jameson, an associate professor at Wichita State University who chaired the international selection committee. “Some of the new species have interesting names; some highlight what little we really know about our planet,” she said.

The top 10

Devil’s worm: Measuring about 0.5 millimeters, these tiny nematodes are the deepest-living terrestrial multicellular organisms on the planet. They were discovered at a depth of 1.3 kilometers in a South African gold mine and given the name Halicephalobus mephisto in reference to the Faust legend of the devil because the new species is found at such a depth in the Earth’s crust and has survived immense underground pressure as well as high temperatures - 37 degrees Celsius. According to its discoverers, carbon dating indicated that the borehole water where this species lives had not been in contact with Earth’s atmosphere for the last 4,000 to 6,000 years.

Parasitic wasp: This new species of parasitic wasp, Kollasmosoma sentum, cruises at just one centimeter above the ground in Madrid, Spain, in search of its target: ants. With a target in sight, the teensy wasp attacks from the air like a tiny dive bomber, depositing an egg in less than 1/20 of a second.

Walking cactus (lobopod fossil): Although this new species looks more like a “walking cactus” than an animal at first glance, Diania cactiformis belongs to an extinct group called the armoured Lobopodia, which had wormlike bodies and multiple pairs of legs. The fossil was discovered in Cambrian deposits about 520 million years old from southwestern China and is remarkable in its segmented legs that may indicate a common ancestry with arthropods, including insects and spiders.

Giant millipede: A giant millipede about the length of a sausage bears the common name “wandering leg sausage,” which also is at the root of its Latin name: Crurifarcimen vagans. The species holds a new record as the largest millipede, 16 centimeters, found in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains. The new species is about 1.5 centimeter, in diameter with 56 more or less podous rings, or body segments bearing ambulatory limbs, each with two pairs of legs.

Sneezing monkey: Since 2000, the number of mammals discovered each year averages about 36. Rhinopithecus strykeri, named in honor of Jon Stryker, president and founder of the Arcus Foundation, is the first snub-nosed monkey to be reported from Myanmar and is believed to be critically endangered. It is distinctive for its mostly black fur and white beard and for sneezing when it rains.

SpongeBob SquarePants mushroom: Named Spongiforma squarepantsii, after the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, this new fungus species looks more like a sponge than a typical mushroom. One of its characteristics is that its fruiting body can be squeezed like a sponge and bounce back to its normal size and shape. This fungus, which smells fruity, was discovered in forests on the island of Borneo in Malaysia.

Sazima’s tarantula: Breathtakingly beautiful, this iridescent hairy blue tarantula is the first new animal species from Brazil to be named on the top 10 list. Pterinopelma sazimai is not the first or only blue tarantula but truly spectacular and from “island” ecosystems on flattop mountains.

Bonaire banded box jelly: This strikingly beautiful yet venomous jellyfish looks like a box kite with colorful, long tails. The species name, Tamoya ohboya, was selected by a teacher as part of a citizen science project, assuming that people who are stung exclaim “Oh boy!” The species has been spotted near the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire.

Night-blooming orchid: A slender night stalker is one way to describe this rare orchid from Papua New Guinea whose flowers open around 10 at night and close early the next morning. It was described by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Leiden University, who named it Bulbophyllum nocturnum from the Latin word meaning “at night.” It is believed to be the first night-blooming orchid recorded among the more than 25,000 known species of orchids.

Nepalese autumn poppy: This vibrant, tall, yellow poppy found in Nepal may have gone undescribed because of its high mountain habitat. Named Meconopsis autumnalis for the autumn season when the plant flowers, there is evidence that this species was collected before but not recognized as new until intrepid botanists collecting plants miles from human habitation in heavy monsoon rains made the “rediscovery.”

Why a top 10 new species list?

“The more species we discover, the more amazing the biosphere proves to be, and the better prepared we are to face whatever environmental challenges lie ahead,” said the institute’s Wheeler, who also is a professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability and its School of Life Sciences.

“It is impossible to do justice to the species discoveries made each year by singling out just 10. Imagine being handed 18,000 newly published books packed with fantastic information and stories and before having the opportunity to read them, being asked to pick the best 10,” Wheeler said. “With the help of an international committee of experts we do the best we can by picking those with flashy jackets, surprising titles and unexpected plot lines in an effort to draw attention to the whole lot.

“There are many reasons to discover and describe species, and draw attention to this work. Perhaps most obvious is environmental: Unless we know what species exist to begin with, we are powerless to detect, track or mitigate losses of biodiversity,” said Wheeler. “Another is biomimetics, turning to species for clues about new and sustainable ways to meet our needs for survival, materials and designs. There is also an intergenerational ethical imperative for species exploration. Because human population levels and activities are driving extinctions, we owe to humans who follow to explore and document our flora and fauna.

Marking the May 23 birth of Linnaeus

The annual top 10 new species announcement commemorates the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, who initiated the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications. The 300th anniversary of his birth on May 23 was celebrated worldwide in 2007.

Since Linnaeus initiated the modern systems for naming plants and animals in the 18th century, nearly 2 million species have been named, described and classified. Scientists estimate there are between 8 million and 100 million species on Earth, though most set the number between 8 million to 12 million.

Taxon experts pick top 10

Nominations for this year’s top 10 list were invited through the species.asu.edu website and also generated by institute staff and committee members.

“We had well over 200 new species nominated this year, and from those, we picked some fascinating “critters,” said chair Jameson.

“Members on the committee come from many places around the world and from many backgrounds, so we bring our own biases to the process; some of us like photosynthesizers, some like predators, some like ocean dwelling critters,” she said.

“Committee members had complete freedom in making their choices and developing their own criteria, from unique attributes or surprising facts about the species to peculiar names,” Wheeler noted.

In addition to Jameson, a scarab expert, other members on this year’s committee included Philippe Bouchet, a marine life expert at the French National Museum of Natural History; Meg Daly, an expert in sea anemones at the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University; Peter Kämpfer, who expertise is bacteria, Institut für Angewandte Mikrobiologie, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen; Niels Peder Kristensen, an expert in Lepidoptera and basal hexapods at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, Zoologisk Museum, University of Copenhagen; James Macklin, an expert on hawthorns and blackberries at the Agriculture and Agri-food Canada; Ellinor Michel, a mollusk expert at the Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, London; John Noyes, a chalcidoid wasp expert at the Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London; Alan Paton, who is an expert on mints at the International Plant Names Index and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK; Andrew Polaszek, an expert on Hymenoptera (parasitoid wasps) at the Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London; Gideon F. Smith, an expert on succulent plants at the Biosystematics Research and Biodiversity Collections, South African National Biodiversity Institute; Antonio Valdecasas, a water mite expert at the Museo Nacional Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain; and Zhi-Qiang Zhang, a mite expert at the New Zealand Arthropod Collection, Landcare Research.

Nominations for the 2013 list – for species described in 2012 – may be made online at http://species.asu.edu/species-nomination.



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