From giant lizards to microscopic leeches: latest discoveries
By Seamus McAfee
A flattened fish, a giant fruit-eating lizard and a leech named after a dinosaur were among the top 10 new species selected for recognition by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.
Many of the creatures on the list are as scary as they are amazing, such as the Tyrannobdella rex leech. With huge teeth and a name that harkens to the terrifying T-Rex, the only thing more disturbing than this creature’s appearance is its place of discovery – in the nose of a 9-year-old girl.
And a new species of cockroach (photo right), able to leap as well as a grasshopper, might also give even the most dedicated animal lover the heebie-jeebies.
A giant spider found in Madagascar is capable of hair-raising feats of engineering, being able to construct its vast webs across rivers, streams and lakes.
Species were nominated by both the public and the scientists who picked the winners. While the institute did not expand on how exactly their experts selected each species, many bear unique or striking qualities.
A luminescent fungus found in Brazil possesses a gel which emits a constant yellowish-green glow. A six-foot-long monitor lizard discovered in the Philippines spends much of its time in trees and eats only fruit.
And a mushroom uncovered in the United States grows not in dry soil but completely underwater in an Oregon river.
This 6-foot-long monitor lizard lives mainly in trees and eats only fruit. Photo by Arvin C. Diesmos.
While the discovery of so many new species implies progress in conservation, even the institute’s list carries with it the inescapable truth of the threat species around the world continue to face. The otherworldly pancake batfish, flat as the food it’s named for, lives at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, raising questions of what new species the disaster may have already wiped out.
Explorers also found a new species of antelope (drawing right by Yann-Le-Bris) already dead in West Africa, a victim of the region’s bush meat market.
In contrast, an iron-eating bacterium was found flourishing at the sunken wreck of the RMS Titanic, leading it to be christened Halomonas titanicae. Researchers hope to use the bacteria in the future to help dispose of sunken ships and oil rigs cluttering the ocean floor.
Scientists say that while they are learning a lot about plants and animals they never knew about before, they don’t know how many go extinct before they’re ever even found by people. Still, for scientists seeking a new species, there is plenty of opportunity. According to experts, all the species discovered since 1758 may comprise less than 20 percent of all the plants and animals living on Earth. Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist with the institute, estimates that 10 million species remain to be discovered, described, named and classified.
For photos of the top 10 new species and more information about them and the people who discovered them, visit the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.
What do you say? What would be your reaction to suddenly coming upon a six-foot lizard, a flying cockroach, or a spider whose web can stretch across an entire river? Let us know in a comment below or on Facebook.
What you can do: You can support the continuing search for plants and animals like these at the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.