Perhaps as a taxonomist, I don’t get terribly excited about new species in the same way that the general public does. I do love the satisfaction of discovering and describing something new, but I have not yet named a species after a famous person (only my Honours supervisor, who thought having a parasite named after him was a rather dubious honour), or found anything exceptional-looking. But, this week, I’ve found newly described species who are both those things. And I also found some other extra-interesting bits.
David Attenborough’s spider
Via the BBC News, I learned that taxonomists from the Queensland Museum and the Museum of Western Australia have described a new species of goblin spider and named it after Sir David Attenborough. It’s called Prethopalpus attenboroughi, lives in a very small island off northern Queensland, and is less than 2mm long. I’d be far too timid to name something so tiny after someone so great, but maybe there’s an irony there that I’m missing.
The genus Homo gets larger
Taxonomy papers rarely get published in Nature. So I won’t begrudge Maeve Leakey et al. for having the audacity to submit a species description to said journal, because it’s on a new species of Homo. Fossils examined suggest that there was more than just H. erectus and H. habilis roaming around Africa about 2 million years ago. NewScientist has a nice summary for those who can’t get through the Nature paywall. Homo rudolfensis was found in the 1970s and initially considered to be a morphological anomaly and was disregarded. More recent discoveries of similarly-shaped skulls enabled the comparison with the original and the hypothesis that they were anomalus H. habilis was rejected, reinstating H. rudolfensis as a species. Nice.
New caecilian looks like a penis…
…well, it does. I quote a tweet I got from Science Mag: “The penis-snake is an amphibian![link to MongaBay.com]”. A new species of caecilian, Atretochoana eiselti, was discovered in Brazil last year, during the earthworks for a new dam. It’s quite large, around 75cm long (twice the size of your usual, garden-variety caecilian), and, it looks fairly phallic. Most unfortunate.
Want to name a new species?
Conservation scientists in South Africa have found a new species of iris. Not knowing what to name it, they have set up an online auction, to let the highest bidder have a crack at it instead. Check it out at the NewScientist website. Proceeds from the auction will go to the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust, which includes looking after the critically endangered habitats where the iris lives. I think it’s a nice way of generating some interest in taxonomy and species discovery, and also generating some funding for research and conservation at the same time. Get your thinking caps on, and your wallets out. When I looked, the auction was at 1100 pounds sterling (I don’t have the little wiggly pounds sign on my Australian computer).
So there you have it – some highlights of taxonomy from the past week. The beauty of taxonomy is that you never know what you might find!