New species are discovered all the time (especially beetles, lots of beetles) (and things named after Sir David Attenborough) but everyone has a favorite or two. And each year, an international committee gathered by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry rounds up ten of the best-of-the-best.
And we have to agree that their choices are pretty cool.
Anzu wyliei: The “Chicken from Hell”
Okay, so the hell chicken wins by its nickname alone. It’s not particularly demon-like, but it was found in the Hell Creek Formation in North and South Dakota. The three skeletons used to identify the new feathered dinosaur showed it could stand 5 feet tall and weigh as much as 600 pounds, which is one serious bird.
[New dinosaur called ‘Chicken From Hell’]
Balanophora coralliformis: Basically a parasitic potato in grave danger
Right? It looks like potatoes.
But it’s actually a parasitic plant – one that doesn’t photosynthesize, but instead draws energy from a host plant – that became endangered just about as soon as it was discovered. So far only about 50 plants of the species have been found, all at around 5,000 feet elevation in the mossy forests of Mount Mingan in the Philippines.
Cebrennus rechenbergi: A tumbling sand spider
The stuff of sweet dreams and beautiful nightmares, this cartwheeling sand spider from Morocco is agile as heck. When threatened, it strikes an intimidating pose and then runs towards the threat – but usually switches to cartwheeling, which is faster.
That’s not as crazy as it sounds. There’s nowhere to hide in the sand, so running away would be pointless. Cartwheeling towards danger is intimidating. Especially if that danger is uphill, which is no problem for rechenbergi.
Oh, and it's inspired a robot, too:
Dendrogramma enigmatica: wtf
Remember these guys? They look like mushrooms, but the two Australian deep-sea species – which are probably related to the group that includes jellyfish and corals – are so weird that they may justify an entirely new phylum. New species are nothing special, and even new genera happen all the time, but a new phylum is a big deal.
[These deep sea ‘mushrooms’ don’t fit into any known category of life]
Deuteragenia ossarium: A mama wasp that keeps things locked down
This Chinese wasp has some wicked good motherly instincts. When it’s time to build her multi-celled nest, she kills a spider to drop into each cell, giving her babies food to eat. But the cells on the outside of the group don’t get spiders, but dead ants. Tons of dead ants. Dead ants all over the freaking nursery.
Morbid and gross? Yes. But growing up next door to a body of corpses is actually great news for a baby ossarium. The dead ants give off a bouquet of chemicals that mask the scent of helpless wasp larvae, keeping enemies at bay.
Limnonectes larvaepartus: A frog on the fence, birth-wise
This is the first frog known to give birth to live tadpoles in water instead of laying eggs (or letting those eggs hatch out of their backs, which, ew) or birthing tiny frogs. Only handful of frogs even use internal fertilization, and all the other species still deposit eggs – or froglets.
But these Indonesian frogs just have to be weird, and they give birth to tadpoles. In one case, a frog gave birth to one right into a researcher’s hand.
[Newly discovered frog gives birth to live tadpoles, a first]
Phryganistria tamdaoensis: A walking stick in hiding
This 9-inch-long stick bug managed to remain long undiscovered in a Vietnam town frequented by bug experts, which makes it this year’s hide and seek champion. Or last year’s, rather, because I guess their luck finally ran out.
Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum: One beautiful sea slug
The word slug doesn’t really inspire images of beauty, even when you put the beautifier “sea” in front. But this Japanese sea slug is definitely a beaut.
Tillandsia religiosa: A Christmas miracle
These plants are frequently used in Christmas Nativity displays in Mexico, but it turns out they were a species totally unknown to science! It grows at a high elevation and blooms from December to March, so it’s no surprise that the red and green plant is considered a Christmas-themed one by locals.
Torquigener albomaculosus: A crop-circle building pufferfish
Pufferfish, you’re already adorable. Why you gotta go making sand art, too?
This Japanese fish makes intricate, circular geometric designs on sea floor off the coast of Japan. These marine marvels were a mystery until scientists discovered the fish creating them. They’re actually spawning nests, and males make them by wriggling around in the sand.
They may be pretty, but they’re also useful: Scientists think the ridges help protect the center of the nest from strong sea currents. So when a ladyfish sees a particularly intricate circle, it’s a sign that her babies will be safe and snug inside of it.
[Why Sir David Attenborough, at 89, can’t and won’t stop documenting nature]
Want more crazy critters? Give these a click: