Taxonomists describe ten weirdest new species

Tempe, Arizona – The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and an international committee of taxonomists have put together a list of the ten weirdest and most wonderful species discovered in 2008.

There is still a surprising mumber of species being discovered each year – a whopping 18,516 in 2007, say the taxonomists.

The 2008 list is headed by a pea-sized seahorse, caffeine-free coffee and bacteria that live in hairspray. The list also includes the very tiny – a four-inch snake – and the very long – an insect from Malaysia with an overall length of 22.3 inches.

Also making the hall of fame are a fossilized specimen of the oldest known live-bearing vertebrate and a snail whose shell twists around four axes, as well as a palm that flowers itself to death, a ghost slug from Wales [Andrew Thomas, surely? – ed] and a deep blue damselfish.

The seahorse – Hippocampus satomiae – is just half an inch long, and was found near Derawan Island off Kalimantan, Indonesia. The name – satomiae – is in honour of Miss Satomi Onishi, the presumably very sharp-eyed dive guide who collected the type specimens.

Rather larger is a new species and genus of palm – Tahina spectablilis – with fewer than 100 individuals found only in a small area of northwestern Madagascar. This plant flowers itself to death, producing a huge, spectacular terminal inflorescence with countless flowers. After fruiting, the palm dies and collapses. Since its discovery, it has become a highly prized ornamental.

Also on the list is caffeine-free coffee from Cameroon. Coffea charrieriana is the first record of a caffeine-free species from Central Africa.

And, in the category of “spray on new species” is an extremophile bacteria, Microbacterium hatanonis, that was discovered in hairspray by Japanese scientists.

Phobaeticus chani made the list as the world’s longest insect, a stick insect with a body length of 14 inches and overall length of 22.3 inches which was found in Borneo, Malaysia. By contrast, the Barbados Threadsnake – Leptotyphlops carlae – is believed to be the world’s smallest snake at just 4.1 inches long.

The ghost slug – Selenochlamys ysbryda – was a surprising find in the well-collected and densely populated area of Cardiff, Wales.

A snail – Opisthostoma vermiculum – found in Malaysia, represents a unique morphological evolution, with a shell that twists around four axes. It is endemic to a unique limestone hill habitat in Malaysia.

The other two species on the top 10 list are fish. Chromis abyssus – a beautiful species of damselfish – was found in adeep-reef habitat off the coast of Ngemelis Island, Palau. The fossilised specimen of Materpiscis attenboroughi shows a mother fish giving birth to live young approximately 380 million years ago.

“Most people do not realize just how incomplete our knowledge of Earth’s species is or the steady rate at which taxonomists are exploring that diversity. We are surrounded by such an exuberance of species diversity that we too often take it for granted,” said Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist and director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.

Around 1.8 million species have been described since Linnaeus initiated the modern systems for naming plants and animals in the 18th century. Scientists still have very little idea how many species there are in total, with estimates ranging from two million to 100 million, although most set the number at around 10 million.