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Suicidal palm

Each year, Arizona State University's International Institute for Species Exploration releases a top 10 list of the most interesting new species from the past year.

This weekend, the 2009 list came out. The top 10 includes a self-destructing palm, the longest insect, a tiny seahorse, the smallest snake, and caffeine-free coffee beans.

To be especially accurate, the institute does not say these are newly discovered species. That would be very Western-scientist-centric and offensive to local populations who may know about these creatures for generations. Instead, the new top 10 winners are chosen from the "thousands of species fully described and published in calendar year 2008," according to ASU's site.

First on the list is the Tahina Palm, or Tahina spectabilis. There are fewer than 100 known individual trees in northwestern Madagascar. This species grows nearly 60 feet tall, according to London-area Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. After 30 to 50 years, the palm produces seeds in a once-in-a-lifetime flowering.

"This plant flowers itself to death, producing a huge, spectacular terminal inflorescence with countless flowers. After fruiting, the palm dies and collapses," according to ASU's site. "Soon after the publication of the species, seeds were disseminated throughout the palm grower community, raising money for its conservation by the local villagers, and it has become a highly prized ornamental."

Photo by: Courtesy of John Dransfield

Big stick

Phobaeticus chani is the world's longest insect. Its body is 14 inches long, and overall it is 22.3 inches long. It was found on the island of Borneo in southeast Asia.
Photo by: Philip Bragg

Puny pony

Satomi's Pygmy Seahorse, or Hippocampus satomiae, is the smallest known seahorse. It is 0.54 inches long, with a height of 0.45 inches. It is found off the island of Borneo.
Photo by: Color photo by John Sear; specimen photo by Rudie Kuiter

Smallest serpent

The Barbados Threadsnake, or Leptotyphlops carlae, is the world's smallest snake at 4.1 inches long. It was found on the island of Barbados in the Carribean.
Photo by: S. Blair Hedges

Haunted slug

The Ghost Slug, or Selenochlamys ysbryda, is found in Wales. The photos at the right are its teeth.
Photo by: Ben Rowson

Curly Q

Here are shells of the Opisthostoma vermiculum, which has no common name and may be found in just one limestone karst in Malaysia.

"This species represents a unique morphological evolution in its manner of shell twisting. Most gastropod shells tightly coil according to a logarithmic spiral and have an upper limit of three coiling axes," according to ASU's site. "The shell of O. vermiculum, however, possesses four different coiling axes--the most for any known gastropod. In addition, the whorls detach three times and reattach twice to preceding whorls in a fairly consistent manner, which suggests that the coiling strategy is under some form of strict developmental-gene control."

Photo by: Reuben Clements

Deep blue

Deep Blue Chromis, or Chromis abyssus, was found in a deep coral reef off one of the Palau islands in the Pacific Ocean. According to ASU's site, its discovery shows "how little we know of deep-reef biodiversity."
Photo by: Underwater photo by John Earle; specimen photo by Richard Pyle

Our mother?

Mother Fish, or Materpiscis attenboroughi, is the oldest known vertebrate to bear live offspring. The fossilized specimen, discovered in Australia, is an "extremely rare find, showing a mother fish giving birth approximately 380 million years ago," according to ASU.

The image at left is a reconstruction.

Photo by: John A. Long

Naturally decaffeinated

Charrier Coffee. or Coffea charrieriana, is a "new caffeine-free coffee from Cameroon, the first record of a caffeine-free species from central Africa...In this case the new species could be used for breeding of naturally decaffeinated beans," according to ASU.
Photo by: Color photos of live plant by Francois Anthony; preserved specimen courtesy of Piet Stoffelen

Spray-on species

Microbacterium hatanonis, which has no common name, is a new species of bacteria found in hairspray.
Photo by: Image by Erik Holsinger

Google map

ASU used Google Maps to show the distribution of the Top 10 species.
Photo by: Image from Google Maps


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