Harry Potter spider and Game of Thrones ant among ‘best’ new species

22 May 20177 Shares

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Eriovixia gryffindori, resembling dried foliage. It looks like a sorting hat, kind of. Image: Sumukha J N

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Aided by pop culture, a list of the top-ranked new species discovered in the past year include one Eriovixia gryffindori – recognise the name?

What do an omnivorous rat, a Harry Potter hat and a Game of Thrones ant have in common? They all feature on this year’s list of the ‘best’ new species of 2017.

That’s according to the College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in New York, which also included an unexpected pink plant, a swimming centipede and a tomato in the list.

ESF New Species

In the tenth year of listing new species, a strikingly coloured stingray, a devil-adorned orchid, a millipede and a marine worm rounded out the full ten.

Four of the new species hail from Asia (India, Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia), with Mexico, Brazil, the US, Colombia, Australia and, inevitably, Papua New Guinea home to the newly discovered species.

In the decade since the first ranking, curators of the list claim that almost 200,000 new species have been discovered and named.

“This would be nothing but good news were it not for the biodiversity crisis and the fact that we’re losing species faster than we’re discovering them,” said Quentin Wheeler, president of ESF.

“The rate of extinction is 1,000 times faster than in prehistory. Unless we accelerate species exploration, we risk never knowing millions of species or learning the amazing and useful things they can teach us.

“We are altering ecosystems, decimating biodiversity and polluting our waters,” he said. “Of all the devastating implications of climate change, none is more dangerous than accelerating species extinction.”

The ten lauded species, including descriptions from ESF, are listed below.

Eriovixia gryffindori – India

This tiny spider, less than 2mm long, takes its name from the sorting hat in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. The shape of the spider’s body — conical, with a jaunty bend at the narrow tip – is reminiscent of the hat first owned by the wizard Godric Gryffindor.

The scientific publication describing the discovery states that the name is “an ode … for magic lost, and found, in an effort to draw attention to the fascinating, but oft-overlooked, invertebrates and their secret lives”.

Eriovixia gryffindori, lateral view. Image: Sumukha J. N.

Eriovixia gryffindori, lateral view. Image: Sumukha J N

Eulophophyllum kirki – Malaysia

This new species of katydid was discovered while researchers were looking for tarantulas and snakes in Borneo.

Named for the photographer of the only known specimen, Peter Kirk, Eulophophyllum kirki’s most striking feature is its use of colour and mimicry to blend into the foliage.

Eulophophyllum kirki in habitat. Image: Peter Kirk

Eulophophyllum kirki in habitat. Image: Peter Kirk

Gracilimus radix – Indonesia

In what appears to be an evolutionary reversal, the newly discovered Sulawesi root rat dines on both plant and animal matter, making it unique among its strictly carnivorous relatives.

The rat is known to sometimes feed on roots, and the name Gracilimus radix is derived from the Latin word for ‘root’.

Gracilimus radix in the field. Image: Kevin Rowe, Museums Victoria

Gracilimus radix in the field. Image: Kevin Rowe/Museums Victoria

Illacme tobini – US

Siphonorhinid millipedes can possess as many as 750 legs. With 414 legs, this new species has not yet broken the record number, but that could change. These animals continue to add body segments — and limbs — throughout their lives.

Long, thread-like — about 20mm in length — and eyeless, Illacme tobini boasts an ancient lineage, dating from before the break-up of the supercontinent Pangaea more than 200m years ago.

Illacme tobini view of head Image: Paul Marek, Virginia Tech

View of Illacme tobini head. Image: Paul Marek/Virginia Tech

Pheidole drogon – Papua New Guinea

Pheidole drogon is one of two new species of spiny ants from Papua New Guinea. It is named after Drogon, the black dragon commanded by Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones.

Previously, large back spines were assumed to be a defence mechanism. However, microtomography — similar to medical CT scans — suggests that at least some of the spines serve as a location for muscle attachment.

Pheidole drogon,major, soldier in profile. Image: Masako Ogasawara

Pheidole drogon major soldier in profile. Image: Masako Ogasawara

Potamotrygon rex – Brazil

This freshwater stingray is endemic to the Tocantins River in Brazil. Potamotrygon rex is among the 35pc of the 350 documented fish species in the river that are found nowhere else on Earth.

The stingray is blackish to blackish-brown in background colour, with intense yellow to orange spots that, combined with its size, earn it the title of ‘king’.

The discovery of such a large and brightly coloured stingray highlight the gaps in our knowledge regarding fish of the Neotropics.

Potamotrygon rex Dorsal (left) and ventral (right) views of holotype, an endemic freshwater stingray that can easily reach upwards of 20kg. Image: Marcelo R de Carvalho

Potamotrygon rex Dorsal (left) and ventral (right) views of holotype, an endemic freshwater stingray that can easily reach upwards of 20kg. Image: Marcelo R de Carvalho

Scolopendra cataracta – Laos, Thailand and Vietnam

This new centipede is black, has 20 pairs of legs and measures up to 20cm. It is the first species of centipede ever observed to be able to plunge into water and run along the bottom in much the same manner as it does on dry land. Its name, cataracta, is Latin for waterfall.

The species, with its surprisingly adept swimming and diving abilities, was discovered under a rock but escaped into a stream where it rapidly ran to and hid under a submerged rock. A member of the predominant centipede genus in tropical regions, Scolopendra cataracta’s amphibious ability is unprecedented.

Scolopendra cataracta. The largest reported centipede, with a maximum recorded body length of 20cm. Image: Siriwut, Edgecombe and Panha

Scolopendra cataracta. The largest reported centipede, with a maximum recorded body length of 20cm. Image: Siriwut, Edgecombe and Panha

Solanum ossicruentum – Australia

The name of this new species was chosen with help from 150 seventh-grade life sciences students in Pennsylvania. Young fruits stain blood red when cut before maturing into a dry, bony state; therefore, the final choice combines the Latin ossi (for bony) and cruentum (for bloody).

The woody plant is an upright, clonal shrub growing to 2m tall, forking into two or three stems. The fruit is a berry roughly 1.5-2.5cm in diameter. When cut, its flesh oxidises from whitish-green to blood red.

Mature fruit of Solanum ossicruentum enclosed in prickly calyx. Image: Jason T. Cantley

Mature fruit of Solanum ossicruentum enclosed in prickly calyx. Image: Jason T Cantley

Telipogon diabolicus – Colombia

They say the devil is in the details. In this case, it’s in the orchid. The Telipogon diabolicus has a reproductive structure, derived from the fusion of male and female flower parts into one that bears a striking resemblance to a demon’s head.

Considered critically endangered, the species is known to originate from southern Colombia, where it acts as an epiphyte: a plant that grows harmlessly on another plant in moist, dwarf mountain forest.

Telipogon diabolicus the plant in its habitat. Image: M. Kolanowska

Telipogon diabolicus plant in its habitat. Image: M Kolanowska

Xenoturbella churro – Mexico

Discovered deep in the Gulf of California, Xenoturbella churro is a 10cm marine worm, one of six species now known in the genus. It is representative of a group of primitive worm-like creatures that are the earliest branch in the family tree of bilaterally symmetrical animals, including insects and humans. These primitive creatures have a mouth, but no anus, and are a reminder of the amazing biodiversity found in the world’s oceans.

The holotype of Xenoturbella churro after collection and return to the surface from 1.7km below the surface in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Image: Greg Rouse

The holotype of Xenoturbella churro after collection from 1.7km below the surface in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Image: Greg Rouse

Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

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