The top 10 new species discoveries of 2016 include the landmark homo naledi find from last October, as well as a giant tortoise, a seadragon and an umma gumma dragonfly.
We know of about 2m species alive, or which have lived, somewhere on Earth – it has been estimated that there are five-times that figure yet to be discovered.
So, when taxonomy experts SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) release information on all the discoveries made last year, it makes for an entertaining, informative ‘Top 10 of 2016’ collection.
The list consists of a giant tortoise, a giant sundew, the homo naledi, an isopod, a beetle named after Paddington Bear, the Attenborough-inspired Sirdavidia flower, a dragonfly, a monkey, a seadragon and an anglerfish.
They were ranked the most significant out of a total haul of around 18,000 discoveries made in 2015, with ESF president Quentin Wheeler suggesting species are disappearing at least at the rate that they are discovered, on average.
“Knowledge of what species exist, where they live, and what they do will help mitigate the biodiversity crisis and archive evidence of the life on our planet that does disappear in the wild.”
Here are the Top 10 New Species 2016, with some information included from the International Institute for Species Exploration:
Giant Tortoise: Chelonoidis donfaustoi
Giant tortoises on the Galapagos are no longer considered one species. A careful analysis of both genetic and morphological data shows that the smaller eastern population, with perhaps as few as 250 individuals, is a distinct and new species.
Giant Sundew: Drosera magnifica
This is believed to be the first new species of plant discovered through photographs posted on Facebook. It is also a record-setter, being the largest sundew ever seen in the New World, growing to 123 cm (48 inches). It’s almost extinct.
Hominin: Homo naledi
Two cave explorers charting the underground caverns of South Africa back in 2013 stumbled across the new species of homo sapien that had remained undiscovered after finding a collection of bones that later turned out to be a mass grave.
Dubbed the Dinaledi Chamber, the cave is now home to one of the biggest breakthroughs in anthropology in some years, with the research team analysing 1,550 bone fragments for analysis before making their conclusions.
The new species has been called H. naledi due to its discovery in the Rising Star Cave system, with naledi translating to star in the local Sesotho language.
Isopod: Iuiuniscus iuiuensis
This blind, unpigmented, multilegged animal represents a new subfamily, genus, and species of amphibious isopod discovered in a South American cave. It has a behaviour never seen before in its family: it constructs shelters of mud.
Anglerfish: Lasiognathus dinema
This pug-fugly anglerfish was discovered during a Natural Resource Damage Assessment process conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
Seadragon: Phyllopteryx dewysea
This new kind of marine fish, 240mm in length, is a striking shade of ruby red with pink vertical bars and light markings on its snout. Only the third known species of seadragon, it is found in slightly deeper and more offshore waters than the related common or leafy seadragons.
Tiny beetle: Phytotelmatrichis osopaddington
This is a featherwing beetle, the family that includes the smallest known group of beetles and which is named for the distinctive shape of their wings. Most of them are found on the forest floor where they feed on decomposing materials.
New primate: Pliobates cataloniae
This ape, nicknamed “Laia” by her discoverers, was a small female that lived about 11.6m years ago in what is now Spain, climbing trees and eating fruit. She lived before the lineage containing humans and great apes had diverged from its sister branch, the gibbons, and she appears to be sister to the three combined.
Flowering Tree: Sirdavidia solannona
This new tree species was ‘hidden’ just metres from the main road in the Monts de Cristal National Park, in Gabon, which was thought to have already been well explored by science. Its small size, less than 20 feet high with a diameter of 10cm, might have caused it to be overlooked during inventories that focus on larger trees.
Sparklewing: Umma gumma
This new damselfly is just one of a staggering number of newly-discovered dragonflies and damselflies from Africa. 60 new species were reported in a single publication this year, the most for any single paper in more than a century and a surprising leap forward in knowledge for one of the better-known insect orders.