Taxonomy top 10 for 2011.

I probably should have written this post earlier, given that we’re now firmly ensconced in 2012. Not to worry, I’ll write it now anyway because the fun thing about taxonomy is that once a species is described, it’s described. Nothing can change about it, unless someone wants to re-classify it and even if they do, the original description is still important. I’ll do a really long drawn-out, dry and boring post on the fundamentals of taxonomy later but in this instance, all you need to know is that these organisms are what I think are the coolest to come out of 2011.

There are several pages on top species for 2011, see here and here for a couple of lists.

Here’s my list. Not all of them are parasites!

1. Snub-nosed monkey – Rhinopithecus strykeri

For some reason, the National Geographic page I got this from was calling it an “Elvis monkey” due to it’s hairdo. I’d argue that it’s more like a freaky Michael Jackson monkey. This species was described in early 2011 from Myanmar, and it’s represented in a painting because the only known specimen for examination was dead. Apparently others were seen, but were unable to be photographed. There is a photo of the dead one, but it looks even more freakily like Michael Jackson that I chose not to include it!

2. Nasty leech: Tyrannobdella rex

This leech was retrieved from the nose of a girl in Peru (image from here). It’s remarkable not because of it’s size and the size of its teeth, but for the reason that this was published in PLoS ONE! For a species description, that’s pretty amazing.

3. Philippine swell shark, Cephaloscyllium ventriosum

This shark was one of many new species discovered as part of a Californian Academy of Sciences expedition to the Philippines. It is so named because it can suck in seawater to inflate itself in order to scare off predators. But as it’s quite small, the idea of it puffing itself up in such a way is just cute, not scary.

4. Devil worm, Halicephalobus mephisto

The description of  Halicephalobus mephisto was published in Nature. That’s even more impressive than PLoS ONE. But it’s a pretty remarkable worm. This nematode is found 3.6km below the surface of the Earth. We have known for some time that bacteria can be found at similar depths, but this is the first time a eukaryote has been found so deep. They feed on bacteria and live at high temperatures and extremely high pressure. Pretty cool for a soft-bodied organism, no?

5. Fruit-eating monitor, Varanus bitatawa

This new species of lizard (in the photo – left adult male holotype, right juvenile male paratype) is also from the Californian expedition to the Philippines. The lizard lives in trees and has been known to locals for a long time, but had eluded scientists until this year (image link). Perhaps herpetologists don’t like looking up? 😉

6. 1 of 84 beetles described from New Guinea, Macratria riedeli

Entomologist Dmitry Telnov has described 84 new species of beetles from Wallacea and New Guinea. The descriptions are in a book on biodiversity and biogeography of the region. This is on the list because he did the research by re-examining specimens from museums, which is very time consuming. And many species are differentiated by fine structures like reproductive organs, which require dissection and preparation to examine and therefore lots of time. Add to this the amount of time that it takes to go through keys, papers and information to decide if what you’re looking at is new, and the time it takes to write the description up and draw appropriate pictures…. I think Dmitry has spent years on this publication.

7. Tapeworm, Echinobothrium joshuai


Figures 1–6 Line drawings of Echinobothrium joshuai n. sp. 1. Scolex. 2. Hooks. 3. Lateral view of B hook showing proximal knob-like protrusion. 4. Cephalic peduncle spines; shown in order from anterior to posterior. 5. Gravid proglottid. 6. Whole worm. (A, anterior hooks; B, posterior hooks.) (ref: Rodriguez et al 2011 Comp Para 78(2):306-311.)

This one has made it to the list because it is a parasite, it has a weird bulbous head (see the figure above), and because its host is the roughnose legskate, a kind of ray from South Africa with a completely awesome name.

8. Tiny little frogs! Paedophryne spp.

Two species of frogs from New Guinea were found this year, Paedophryne dekot (pictured, credit) and P. verrucosa are both between 8 and 9 mm in length. Tiny, tiny little vertebrates, and many invertebrates are larger than that in size. The NatGeo website I got the picture from described them as being ‘smaller than an M&M’. I wonder if they melt in your mouth or your hand….?

9. Fungus from Borneo named Spongiforma squarepantsii

Yep, someone named a fungus after Spongebob Squarepants! It has something to do with it’s sponge-like morphology, and probably because Spongebob is really cool. It was published in Mycologia. Note to self: must be more imaginative with my own species names.

Phew, we’ve made it to no. 10. I don’t want to be kingdomist, so I’ll throw in a plant to go with the animals and fungi.

10. “Rat-eating plant”, Nepenthes robcantleyi

This is an intriguing one, as this particular plant was part of the Chelsea Flower Show in the UK before it was actually described. Collected in Borneo in the 1980s, this pitcher plant became popular in displays, but was not formally described for publication until 2011. The Daily Mail called it a ‘rat-eating plant’, which is not really precise. Pitcher plants digest whatever falls into their pitcher, and large ones will obviously be able to eat larger prey. But made me think of triffids sneaking along, eating unsuspecting rodents and people at flower shows all over the UK.

So there you have it: a snapshot of interesting species described in 2011. This is just a fraction of all the species that were described, and it’s also quite vertebrate-heavy as in reality most new species are invertebrates, fungi or plants. Thank you if you’ve made it all the way to the end (leave a comment to let me know!).


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