Scientists discover wheezing monkey, walking cactus

By Paul Harper

This top 10 list was whittled down from a selection of 200 newly discovered species'. Photo / Sara Pennak/International Institute for Species Exploration/Arizona State University
This top 10 list was whittled down from a selection of 200 newly discovered species'. Photo / Sara Pennak/International Institute for Species Exploration/Arizona State University

A walking cactus, a wandering leg sausage, a snub-nosed monkey that sneezes when it rains and a blue tarantula are among a list of the top 10 newly discovered species announced by Arizona State University today.

About 1.8 million species have been described in the last 300 years by taxonomists but this is believed to be just a small percentage of what is actually living on earth.

On this year's top 10 new species list is the sneezing monkey rhinopithecus strykeri, a Bonaire banded box jellyfish, the underwater Devil's worm which resides in South African gold mines, a unique night-blooming orchid, the SpongeBob SquarePants mushroom, the high-altitude Nepalese autumn poppy, a giant millipede called a wandering leg sausage, the extinct walking cactus Diania cactiformis, and the strikingly blue Sazima's tarantula.

New Zealand scientist, Dr Zhi-Qiang Zhang, a mite expert at Landcare Research, was among the international committee of experts who whittled a list of 200 nominations list down to just 10.

"Part of the reason for doing this is to promote and celebrate the diversity of life and to illustrate that there are still lots more species to discover throughout the world," Dr Zhang said. "And, it's a valuable way of highlighting the important work of taxonomists who each year discover about 20,000 new species around the world."

Dr Zhang said his favourite in the list is Bonaire banded box jellyfish, a beautiful yet venomous jellyfish which looks like a box kite with colourful, long tails. The species name, Tamoya ohboya, was selected by a teacher as part of a science project, assuming that people who are stung exclaim "oh boy".

Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist who directs the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University, said: "The more species we discover, the more amazing the biosphere proves to be, and the better prepared we are to face whatever environmental challenges lie ahead."

"There are many reasons to discover and describe species, and draw attention to this work. Perhaps most obvious is environmental: Unless we know what species exist to begin with, we are powerless to detect, track or mitigate losses of biodiversity," said Wheeler. "Another is biomimetics, turning to species for clues about new and sustainable ways to meet our needs for survival, materials and designs. There is also an intergenerational ethical imperative for species exploration. Because human population levels and activities are driving extinctions, we owe to humans who follow to explore and document our flora and fauna."

See the list here: species.asu.edu/Top10


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