An eyeless snail that lives in darkness 3,000 feet below ground in Croatia and a cross between a sleek cat and a wide-eyed teddy bear rank among the top 10 new species discovered last year, scientists announced last week.
The list, assembled annually since 2008, is intended to highlight the continued discovery of new species. Nearly 18,000 were identified in 2013, adding to the 2 million known to science.
An international committee of taxonomists and other experts, assembled by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, N.Y., selects the top 10.
Scientists believe nature holds another 10 million undiscovered species, from single-celled organisms to mammals, and they worry that thousands are becoming extinct faster than they are being identified, said entomologist Quentin Wheeler, president of the college.
“The top 10 is designed to bring attention to the unsung heroes addressing the biodiversity crisis by working to complete an inventory of Earth’s plants, animals and microbes,” he said in a statement.
Like previous lists, this one shows that even large species can elude scientists.
One of the honorees, for instance, is the olinguito, the cat-bear amalgam from the Andean cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador. The 4.5-pound relative of the raccoon is the first carnivorous mammal discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.
Scientists had long missed an even bigger quarry: the 40-foot-tall dragon tree of Thailand, which has soft, sword-shaped leaves and cream-colored flowers with orange filaments. People living in the area knew of it, but scientists didn’t.
No one knew about some others on the new list. A submersible exploring beneath Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf discovered an inch-long, yellow sea anemone that burrows into the ice and dangles two dozen tentacles in the frigid water.
The discovery of another newfound species was somewhat alarming: Scientists had no idea of the existence of microbes that survived attempts to sterilize clean rooms in Florida and French Guiana where spacecraft are assembled; such bugs had the potential to hitch a ride to other worlds.
Earlier explorers may get a pass for failing to discover the Tinkerbell fairyfly of Costa Rica: at 0.00984 inches across, it is one of the smallest insects known to science.