Top Ten Species List Creates Awareness Of Biosphere Diversity
May 24, 2012

Top Ten Species List Creates Awareness Of Biosphere Diversity

Ten new species are highlighted in the Top Ten New Species list for 2012, the fifth year for this interesting record. The list, created by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of scientists from around the world, was released on May 23, the birthday of the Swedish botanist who created the current system of flora and fauna classification, Carolus Linnaeus. Since Linnaeus created this system in the eighteenth century, almost two million species have been identified and classified, and scientists estimate that there are between eight and twelve million species total on Earth.

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

One associate professor from Wichita State University, Mary Liz Jameson, who directed the international selection committee, stated that it is searching for “species that capture our attention because they are unusual or because they have traits that are bizarre.” She continued, “Some of the new species have interesting names; some highlight what little we really know about our planet.”

The committee selected ten species from among a nominated two hundred for this year´s list, including a blue tarantula, a large millipede, an orchid that blooms at night, and an ancient “walking” cactus. Also chosen for the list were a small wasp, a spongy fungus, a monkey that sneezes, a deadly jellyfish, a worm, and a brilliant poppy.

Wheeler, who also works as a professor for ASU´s School of Sustainability and its School of Life Sciences, explains the reasons why a top ten list is important. “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.”

He also stated, “There are many reasons to discover and describe species, and draw attention to this work. Perhaps most obvious is environmental: Unless we know what species exist to begin with, we are powerless to detect, track or mitigate losses of biodiversity. Another is biomimetics, turning to species for clues about new and sustainable ways to meet our needs for survival, materials and designs. There is also an intergenerational ethical imperative for species exploration. Because human population levels and activities are driving extinctions, we owe to humans who follow to explore and document our flora and fauna.”

Wheeler, who was among the thirty nine scientists, engineers, and scholars to publish a fifty-year plan to map nearly ten million species in the March 30 issue of journal Systematics and Biodiversity, stated, “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.” Wheeler explained that this is a vital move that will help sustain Earth´s biodiversity.

Nominations for the 2012 top ten list were placed on the website, and were also given by committee members and staff of the Institute. Jameson, the chair of the committee, stated, “The top 10 new species is all about exploration and discovery, and learning more about our planet. Lewis and Clark's discoveries included the pronghorn antelope, prairie dog and prairie rose — 250 species altogether. But our job is far from over. We need the help of citizens and scientists alike to meet this grand challenge.”

Jameson further stated, “We had well over 200 new species nominated this year, and from those, we picked some fascinating ℠critters,´”. She also said, “Members on the committee come from many places around the world and from many backgrounds, so we bring our own biases to the process; some of us like photosynthesizers, some like predators, some like ocean dwelling critters.”

“It is impossible to do justice to the species discoveries made each year by singling out just 10. Imagine being handed 18,000 newly published books packed with fantastic information and stories and before having the opportunity to read them, being asked to pick the best 10. With the help of an international committee of experts we do the best we can by picking those with flashy jackets, surprising titles and unexpected plot lines in an effort to draw attention to the whole lot.”

He noted, “Committee members had complete freedom in making their choices and developing their own criteria, from unique attributes or surprising facts about the species to peculiar names. I deeply appreciate the taxon experts who gave their knowledge and time to select this year's top 10. By sharing their passion for exploring the biosphere and discovering species, they spread the recognition and appreciation of the critical roles played by taxonomy, botanical gardens and natural history museums in biodiversity exploration and conservation."

Sazima's tarantula, or Pterinopelma sazimai, was the first species chosen for the list. Although it is not the only or first blue tarantula discovered, its island habitats and vibrancy make it truly unique.

The giant millipede, or Crurifarcimen vagans, has a common name of "wandering leg sausage," due to its similarity in size to a sausage. This record-breaking millipede can reach a length of 6.3 inches, and is nearly .6 inches in diameter. It was discovered in a biodiversity haven, in Tanzania's Eastern Arc Mountains. It has approximately fifty-six podous rings, or limbs, from which stem two pairs of legs each.

With nearly 25,000 species of orchids known, the night-blooming orchid, or Bulbophyllum nocturnum, is thought to be the only of its kind and is truly an amazing find. Two scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Leiden University discovered and named the plant for its rare blooming habits. Found in Papua New Guinea, this orchid blooms only at night, between 10pm to the early morning hours when it closes.

The walking cactus, Diania cactiformis, although resembling a cactus more than an animal, is actually a member of an extinct group of creatures called the armored Lobopodia. These creatures had bodies similar to those of worms, and many legs. The fossil was found in China and dates back to the Cambrian age, nearly 520 million years ago. The segmented legs may show a relationship between spiders and insects today.

The wasp chosen for the 2012 list may be small, but it partakes in an astonishing habit. Kollasmosoma sentum flies at less than half an inch above the ground, searching for ants. Once an ant is within range, the miniature wasp will lay an egg within the ant, in less than 1/20 of a second. A video of the wasp, named Kollasmosoma sentum, dropping an egg on its target can be found on YouTube.

Named after a well-known cartoon character, the Spongebob Squarepants mushroom, or Spongiforma squarepantsii, resembles a sponge more than it does a fungus. This fruity scented mushroom was found in Borneo. When this fungus is maturing, it can be squeezed and it will revert to its original shape and size with no harm.

First discovered in Myanmar, the sneezing monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri) is not the first of its kind found. However, it is the only snub-nosed monkey located in Myanmar and is thought to be alarmingly endangered. A video of this monkey, named after the president and founder of the Arcus Foundation Jon Stryker, can be found on YouTube.

The Tamoya ohboya, or Bonaire banded box jelly, received its name from a teacher during a citizen science project, supposing that once the jelly was spotted (or once a person was stung) a person might say “Oh boy!” The name is not the only interesting characteristic of this jellyfish. Its colorful tendrils resemble a box kite, but don´t be fooled by its beauty: this jelly fish is highly poisonous! The Bonaire banded box jelly sighted just off the coast of Bonaire, a Dutch Caribbean island, can be seen on YouTube.

Devil's worm, named Halicephalobus mephisto in reference to its near one mile depth habitat, is a roundworm that can survive amazingly high temperatures for its species. Discovered in a gold mine located in South Africa, this worm can withstand temperatures of up to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as extreme underground pressure. It was noted by its discoverers that the borehole water where this .002-inch worm lives has not had a connection with the atmosphere for up to six thousand years.

Meconopsis autumnalis, commonly known as Nepalese autumn poppy, may have gone undescribed because of the elevation at which it grows; an appalling 10,827 to 13,780 feet. Although it was collected previously, botanists gathering plant samples in monsoon weather, miles from any human contact, made the rediscovery of this vivacious yellow flower and named it for the season in which it blooms.

More information on these species and others chosen for past top ten lists are found at the International Institute for Species Exploration Website, as well as a Google map that shows each species location and information about the explorers who discovered them. This year´s list holds species from Myanmar, Brazil, South Africa, the Dutch Caribbean, Borneo, Spain, China, Nepal, Tanzania, and Papua New Guinea.

In addition to Jameson, a scarab expert, other members on this year's committee included Philippe Bouchet, a marine life expert at the French National Museum of Natural History; Meg Daly, an expert in sea anemones at the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University; Peter Kämpfer, who expertise is bacteria, Institut für Angewandte Mikrobiologie, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen; Niels Peder Kristensen, an expert in Lepidoptera and basal hexapods at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, Zoologisk Museum, University of Copenhagen; James Macklin, an expert on hawthorns and blackberries at the Agriculture and Agri-food Canada; Ellinor Michel, a mollusk expert at the Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, London; John Noyes, a chalcidoid wasp expert at the Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London; Alan Paton, who is an expert on mints at the International Plant Names Index and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK; Andrew Polaszek, an expert on Hymenoptera (parasitoid wasps) at the Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London; Gideon F. Smith, an expert on succulent plants at the Biosystematics Research and Biodiversity Collections, South African National Biodiversity Institute; Antonio Valdecasas, a water mite expert at the Museo Nacional Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain; and Zhi-Qiang Zhang, a mite expert at the New Zealand Arthropod Collection, Landcare Research.

Nominations for the 2013 list — for species described in 2012 — may be made online at

Annual SOS: In addition to the top 10 new species, the International Institute for Species Exploration annually issues an SOS — State of Observed Species — a report on human knowledge of Earth's species. The latest report was released January 18 and is available online at