Sneezing monkey, giant millipede make top new species list

This year’s top ten new species include a blue tarantula, a sneezing monkey and a ‘walking cactus’.

Chosen by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of scientists from around the world, they also include our old friend Spongiforma squarepantsii, a mushroom that looks like a sponge.

“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,” says Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist who directs the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU.

The sneezing monkey, Rhinopithecus strykeri, was discovered in the high mountains of Myanmar (formerly Burma), and is believed to be critically endangered. It is distinctive for its mostly black fur and white beard – and for sneezing when it rains.

Sazima’s tarantula, iridescent, hairy and blue, got its place for its beauty. The Bonaire banded box jelly is also rather pretty, resembling  a box kite with colorful, long tails – but is rather more deadly.

It was selected by a teacher as part of a citizen science project, on the basis that people who are stung exclaim “Oh boy!” I’d have picked something slightly different, personally.

Meanwhile, the devil’s worm, a tiny nematode, is the deepest-living multicellular organism on the planet, found nearly a mile down in a South African gold mine. It’s been given the name Halicephalobus mephisto in reference to the Faust legend of the devil.

The night-blooming orchid is just what it sounds –  a rare orchid from Papua New Guinea whose flowers open around 10 at night and close early the next morning. It joins the Nepalese autumn poppy on the list.

There’s a parasitic wasp that dive-bombs its prey with its eggs, and a millipede the size of a sausage; and a ‘walking cactus’ fossil with a wormlike body and multiple pairs of legs.

“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,” says Wheeler.

“Each species provides a unique chapter in the history of life and unless we discover them now, we stand to lose an enormous amount of irreplaceable evidence about our own origins and relatives.”