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."
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."
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.