Tinkerbell and cuddly bears top new species list

Despite 18,000 discoveries in past year, species going extinct at faster rate

Thu, May 22, 2014, 05:55

A bug called Tinkerbell, a mammal that looks like a living teddy bear and a see-through shrimp are included in the top 10 new species discovered during the past year.

You might think there was nothing left to discover on this planet, but the 10 were chosen from 18,000 new insects, mammals, reptiles, bacteria and birds named as newly discovered species.

The International Institute for Species Exploration, at New York state university, prepares the annual top 10 list as a celebration of the variety of nature. It also warns of the loss of diversity, given species are going extinct faster than new ones are being discovered, the researchers said.

This year’s crop includes two of the “big species” – a two kilogram mammal and a 12-metre tall tree, both previously unknown to science, said the chair of the selection committee Dr Antonio Valdecasas. “We are very far from having exhausted the knowledge of the biodiversity on Earth,” he said.

Deserts to glaciers The species selected come from around the world, from Ecuador’s rainforests to the underside of an Antarctic glacier. Clearly evolution has no intention of running out of steam.

High on the list of coolest animals discovered are the olinguito from Ecuador and the leaf-tailed gecko of eastern Australia. The olinguito looks like a cross between a cat and a cuddly teddy bear, but don’t bother looking for one as a pet. It is a carnivor with serious claws.

The gecko looks less formidable, but its camouflage is so good you would have difficulty spotting one in the wild.

Surprisingly, the 12-metre dragon tree from the Loei and Lop Buri provinces of Thailand has gone unnoticed since humans started to classify trees. This is despite its cream-coloured flowers with bright orange filaments.

At the opposite end of the size scale is the Tinkerbell Fairyfly of Costa Rica. At just a quarter of a millimetre across, it is one of the smallest insects.

Another appealing critter is the domed land snail with its transparent unpigmented shell. You would have to descent 900 metres into the world’s deepest cave system in western Croatia to find one, a lot of work for very little given they are only two millimetres.

Skeleton shrimp The andrill anemone and the skeleton shrimp came from similarly exotic locations. The former lives upside-down on the bottom of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, its body burrowed into the ice, leaving tentacles exposed to collect food.

The see-through shrimp, at three millimetres, was found in a cave on Catalina island off the California coast.

A new giant amoeba was found in the Mediterranean off Spain. At four to five centimetres, it is one of the biggest single-celled organisms. And a bright orange penicillium fungus was found hidden in the soils of Tunisia.

The tenth species is a real surviver, successfully resisting all human attempts to wipe it out. Known as the clean room microbe, it survives in “sterile” rooms where spacecraft are are assembled. It was collected in a clean room in Florida and separately in French Guiana, 4,000km apart.