Microbes that somehow found their way into antiseptic clean rooms at two separate space launch facilities 2,500 miles apart. A sea anemone that hangs onto life where little else can, burrowed in the ice in Antartica. A snail without eyes (but who cares in the utter darkness where it lives) creeping only a few millimeters a week, except when it hitches a ride or bodysurfs. These are among the “Top Ten” newly-identified species of 2014, described on the Web site of the Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The winners are in no particular order. Maybe they should be called the “Linnies,” after Carolus Linnaeus, who developed the classification system for life on our planet. The winners were chosen by an international committee of taxonomists, researchers whose mission is to find and classify life in its many forms, from a field of roughly 18,000 species identified in 2013. (In a separate Morning Mix post, a scientist whose quest led him to one of this year’s chosen new species, the leaf-tailed Gecko, describes what it took to do it.) For those in need of a refresher on the system of classification, click here. And here’s a terrific map showing where each was found. Most of the information and the photos that follow is courtesy of the IISE, which drew upon the scholarship of the scientists who actually identified the species.
Domed Land Snail: Found in Croatia, living in caves 3,000 feet below the surface, this creature has no eyes — and no need of eyes as it lives in total darkness. It’s about 2 mm (.08 inch) long and moves very slowly, creeping a few millimeters per week. For longer trips, researchers believe it hitches a faster ride on other cave dwellers such as bats or crickets. Scientific name: Zospeum tholussum . Kingdom: Animalia . Family: Carychiidae. (Courtesy SUNY-ESF, IISE/Photo: Jane Bedek.) Leaf-tailed Gecko: Saltaurius eximus , the scientific name for this gecko, sounds like an incantation from “Harry Potter.” Australian researcher Conrad Hoskin identified this animal after a long quest amid the giant boulders of the Melville Range in Northeastern Australia. He tells his story to The Washington Post here . The gecko’s tail — as its name suggests — is a camouflage mechanism that helps it avoid predators as it waits for its own prey on the rocks and in the trees of the rainforest. Kingdom: Animalia . Family: Carphodactylidae. (Photo: Conrad Hoskin) ANDRILL Anemone: When researchers with the Antarctic Geological Drillling Program (ANDRILL) sent a remote submersible into holes drilled into the ice on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, they found this strange anemone less than 2.5 centimeters (one-inch) long burrowed into the ice with its tentacles dangling in the frigid water. How anything survives in that environment is a mystery to scientists. “It is not clear how the species withstands the harsh conditions in its habitat,” said IISE. Scientific name: Edwardsiella andrillae . Kingdom: Animalia. Family: Edwardsiidaie . (Courtesy IISE/Photo: SCINI.) Tinkerbell Fairyfly: Despite its appealing name and tiny size, this is a scary looking wasp collected in the forests of Costa Rica. It measures 250 micrometers (0.00984 inches). Tinkerbell lives off of the eggs of other insects, but not for very long, with a life expectancy of a few days. Scientific name: Tinkerbella nana. Kingdom: Animalia . Family: Mymaridae . (Courtesy SUNY-ESF, IISE /Photo: Jennifer Read.) Clean Room Microbes: Found in two separate sterilized clean rooms 2,500 miles apart where spacecraft are assembled at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the European Space Agency launch facility in French Guiana. How it got to those rooms and survived cleanings is a bit of a mystery. Scientific name: Tersicoccus phoenicis. Kingdom: Bacteria. Family: Micrococcacea e. (Courtesy: SUNY-ESF, IISE/Leibniz-Institute DSMZ, Jet Propulsion Lab, CalTech. ) Amoeboid Protist: Found in underwater caves off the southeast coast of Spain, this one-celled organism is four to five centimeters high (1.5 to 2 inches) — huge by single-cell standards. It snatches sponge fragments to build its protective shell. Scientific name: Spiculosiphon oceana. Kingdom: Animalia. Family: Stegnamminidae . (Courtesy: SUNY-ESF, IISE/Photo: Manuel Maldonado) Orange pencillium: This fungus turns bright orange when produced in colonies. Found in its natural form in soil in Tunisia, researchers named it in honor of the Prince of Orange, Willem-Alexander, who succeeded to the throne as King of the Netherlands last year on the retirement of his mother, Queen Beatrix. Scientific name: Penicillium vanoranjei; kingdom: Fungi. Family: Trichocomaceae. (Courtesy: SUNY-ESF, IISE/Cobus M. Visagie and Jan Dijksterhuis) Skeleton Shrimp: Found in a cave on the island of Santa Catalina off of Southern California, this translucent creature, at 3.3 mm (about 1/8 inch), is nowhere near the size you’d be served in a restaurant and is only a distant relative of the shrimp found in that tasty dish. Scientific name: Liropus minusculus. Family: Caprellidae. Kingdom: Animalia. (Courtesy: SUNY-ESF, IISE/SINC/Photo: J.M. Guerra-Garcia) Kaweesak’s Dragon Tree: “Sounding like something out of ‘Game of Thrones’ and standing 12 meters (nearly 40 feet) tall, it’s hard to believe the dragon tree went unnoticed this long.” It’s found in the limestone mountains of Thailand. It’s small number, perhaps 2,500, and the fact that it grows on limestone extracted for the manufacture of concrete has given it preliminary endangered status. Scientific name: Dracaena kaweesakii . Kingdom: Plantae. Family: Asparagaceae. (Courtesy: SUNY-ESF, IISE/Photo: Paul Wilkin) Olinguito: It’s “the first new carnivorous mammal described in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years,” according to the International Institute for Species Exploration, and is threatened by its dependence on “cloud forest” habitat of the Andes, where it was identified living in the trees. It belongs to the same family as the raccoon, but is described as looking like a cross between a cat and a teddy bear. It weighs in at about 4.5 pounds. Scientific name: Bassaricyon neblina. (Neblina means “fog” or “mist.”) Kingdom: Animalia. Family: Procyonidae . (Courtesy: SUNY-ESF/Photo: Mark Gurney.)