Scientists at Arizona State University (ASU) have announced the top 10 new species discovered in 2012, from a glow-in-the-dark cockroach to a Jurassic insect.
It's a little-known fact that every year, an average of 18,000 new species are discovered around the world. Some of these discoveries are tremendously exciting — we were huge fans of the arachnid puppet master that builds a decoy in its web.
But there's a lot that we don't hear about. To help raise awareness of the discoveries and studies in biodiversity, the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University has for six years been releasing an annual list of the top 10 new discoveries, announced on 23 May — the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, the 18th-century Swedish botanist who devised the modern system of scientific names and classifications.
"We have identified only about 2 million of an estimated 10 to 12 million living species, and that does not count most of the microbial world," said Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration. "For decades, we have averaged 18,000 species discoveries per year, which seemed reasonable before the biodiversity crisis. Now, knowing that millions of species may not survive the 21st century, it is time to pick up the pace.
"We are calling for a NASA-like mission to discover 10 million species in the next 50 years. This would lead to discovering countless options for a more sustainable future, while securing evidence of the origins of the biosphere."
This year, the list includes the world's smallest vertebrate, a stunning glowing cockroach, a 165-million-year-old insect and a monkey with human-like eyes.
With so many discoveries to choose from, the International Institute for Species Exploration has a set of criteria that includes unexpected features or size; organisms found in rare or difficult-to-reach habitats; and organisms that have some significance to humans, whether they're a close relative or play a role in human habitat.
Click through the gallery below to see the institute's selections for discoveries in 2012. Note that the species are not ranked, and the list is presented in no particular order.
Luminescence among land-dwelling creatures is usually confined to fireflies, click beetles and cave-dwelling fungus gnats. The first luminescent cockroach was discovered in 1999, and since then, more than a dozen species have been discovered. This particular roach — resembling a baby ewok in the light, and Wall-E's Eve in the dark — is unfortunately either endangered or extinct, since its habitat was destroyed in the 2010 eruption of the Tungurahua volcano. It is interesting, according to the institute, because the placement of its luminescence suggests that it is mimicking a toxic click beetle.
The Lillputian violet, at barely 1 centimetre tall, is both one of the smallest violets in the world and one of the smallest dicotyledons. It has only been found in a single location in the arid Puna grasslands of the Peruvian Andes.
NE Pacific Ocean; California, US
Found in deep waters averaging 3399 metres in the Pacific Ocean of the north-eastern coast of California, the carnivorous Lyre sponge — looking like nothing so much as the strings of a harp — uses its long, vertical branches to capture plankton.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Old World Lesula monkey is only the second new monkey discovered in Africa in the last 28 years. Although it was known to locals, the monkey — with a blue behind and expressive, human-like eyes — was first seen by scientists in 2007. The shy monkey is hunted locally for bush meat, which means its status is vulnerable.
The No to the Mine snake gets its name from its habitat in the Serranía de Tabasará mountain range of Panama, where mining is destroying its home. The non-venomous, nocturnal snake lives on worms, snails, slugs and amphibian eggs, and the striking black-and-white markings on its body serve as protection by mimicking the markings of venomous coral snakes.
In 2001, a black stain started spreading on the walls of the tremendously significant Lascaux Cave — and, by 2007, they had spread enough to be considered a threat to the cave's Upper Palaeolithic-era art. The stains were a new kind of fungus of a genus that usually grows in the soil and helps plant matter decompose.
This teensy, tiny frog measures just 7 millimetres — snatching the title of "world's smallest vertebrate" from Southeast Asian cyprinid fish Paedocypris progenetica, the adult female of which measures 7.9 millimetres. The average adult P amanuensis measures 7.7 millimetres.
New myrtle species E petrikensis grows to about 2 metres, with glossy emerald leaves and dense clusters of small, pink flowers. It is one of seven new species discovered in the littoral forest of eastern Madagascar, which was once 1600 kilometres long, but is now just a few vestigial fragments, thanks to the expansion of human habitation.
The jade-green lacewing was discovered in an unusual fashion. It was photographed by Hock Ping Guek in a park near Kuala Lumpur; Guek then uploaded the photographs to Flickr, where it was seen by Shaun Winterton, an entomologist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Guek then collected a specimen, which he sent to Stephen Brooks at London's Natural History Museum, who confirmed that it was a new species. The insect was named for Guek's daughter Jade.
This image shows a reconstruction of a 165-million-year-old hangingfly, re-created from a fossil. The insect is characterised by two pairs of narrow wings, a skinny body and long, spindly legs. Hanging from the gingko-like Yimaia capituliformis tree in this way, the insect imitates the fall of its foliage, hiding in wait to capture prey.