Making the Cut: The ‘Best’ New Species from 2014

Yesterday, the International Institute for Species Exploration released its ‘Top 10 New Species of 2015’ list. Every year, approximately 18 000 new species are named, and a panel of taxonomists sift through these taxonomic discoveries to assemble the top 10 list. It’s only fitting that the list is released in late May to commemorate the birth of Linnaeus, who devised our current system of two-part scientific names (i.e. Homo sapiens) some 265 years ago. This year’s list includes everything from a fossilized hell chicken, to a marine animal that does a mean mushroom impersonation, to a cartwheel turning spider.

I can’t help being impressed by every species on the list. After all, what biologist can resist a fanged frog that live-births its tadpoles instead of laying eggs? Each one has a unique ecology, crazy morphology, or special discovery story that makes it stand out among life on earth. But the list immediately made me curious about what it took to win this popularity contest, and what the roughly 17 990 losers brought to the competition. So in no particular order, here is an illustrated list of some of the runner-up species named in 2014 that just didn’t have what it takes to make the top ten:

Left: Maratus pardus, a new species of peacock spider. Photo by Jurgen Otto. Right:   A native of the Andes, the lizard Potamites . Photo by Alessandro Catenazzi.

Left: Maratus pardus, a new species of peacock spider. Photo by Jurgen Otto. Right: A native of the Andes, the lizard Potamites erythrocularis. Photo by Alessandro Catenazzi.

Flashy colours just weren’t enough to get you a spot on the list – Maratus pardus, a newly described species of peacock spider, is painted up in turquoise and orange shades but didn’t get a nod of the hat. The same goes for Alopoglossus viridiceps and Potamites erythrocularis, two new lizard species whose emerald green and rainbow faces are a standout in any crowd.

The Atlantic Coast Leopard frog has been living in New York City for years, but has only been named as a new species in 2014. Photo by Brian R. Curry

The Atlantic Coast Leopard frog has been living in New York City for years, but has only been named as a new species in 2014. Photo by Brian R. Curry

A distinctive song and a big city address doesn’t guarantee a spot on the top 10 list either, as shown by the Atlantic Coast leopard frog. After being mistaken for a regular old leopard frog for years, this native New Yorker that calls Yankee Stadium home was finally named a new species in 2014.

Jennifer Lopez and the deal sea mite named in her honour: Litarachna lopezae Photos by Vladimir Pešić and dvsross.

Jennifer Lopez and the deal sea mite named in her honour: Litarachna lopezae Photos by Vladimir Pešić and dvsross.

It isn’t possible to just cash in on your namesake’s success either. The deap sea mite Litarachna lopezae was named after J. Lo, whose music kept the scientists bopping in the lab while they worked on their discovery. But this species was relegated to backup dancer status in this year’s list.

A dancing frog from the Western Ghats getting his groove on. Photo by Sathyabhama Das Biju.

A dancing frog from the Western Ghats getting his groove on. Photo by Sathyabhama Das Biju.

Litarachna lopezae isn’t alone in the backup dancer lineup either. Busting a move, even in groups just isn’t enough get you a coveted top 10 spot – 14 new species of Micrixalus dancing frogs were described from the western Ghats in India and their unique mating dances didn’t make the cut either.

Cytrodactylus vilaphongi was the 10 000th reptile species described in the world. Photos from Schneider et al. 2014

Cytrodactylus vilaphongi was the 10 000th reptile species described in the world. Photos from Schneider et al. 2014

Cyrtodactylus vilaphongi proves that there’s no such thing as a lucky number. Despite being the 10 000th reptile to be named in the world, this striped black and white beauty wasn’t a favourite with the judges.

Left: Rinorea niccolifera, a newly described plant that can absorb nickel at rates that would kill most other organisms. Photo by: Dr. Edwino S. Fernando. Right: Gramastacus lacks, a tiny freshwater crayfish that has cannibalistic tendencies. Photo by Rob McCormack.

Left: Rinorea niccolifera, a newly described plant that can absorb nickel at rates that would kill most other organisms. Photo by: Dr. Edwino S. Fernando. Right: Gramastacus lacus, a tiny freshwater crayfish that has cannibalistic tendencies. Photo by Rob McCormack.

Amazing digestive feats won’t get you on the list either – just ask Rinorea niccolifera, a newly described plant from the Phillipines that can absorb 1000x more nickel from the soil than most other plants or the miniature cannibal crayfish Gramastacus lacus. It’s important to play by the rules too, a flashy entrance won’t distract the judges. Three undescribed species were discovered in a package of dried ‘porcini’ mushrooms from a grocery store in Canada, but they weren’t formally given names and didn’t make the list.

A number of new species were described from extreme environments like geothermal springs in 2014. Photo by Marie Davey.

A number of new species were described from extreme environments like geothermal springs in 2014. Photo by Marie Davey.

Extreme environments also weren’t enough. There were no bacteria on the list, despite a number of new species from challenging conditions like inland salt lakes, hotspring mud, deap sea hydrothermal vents, and gamma irradiated soil from Antarctica. For example, Thermococcus nautili was described. It’s a single celled arachaea that grows best at 87C, but can tolerate waters as warm as 95C and thrives in the absence of oxygen.

So what did I learn from my short sojourn through the list of ‘losers’ among the new species described in 2014? Life is amazing – a top ten list doesn’t even begin to cover it. With millions of species still waiting description and new habitats being explored every year, there is enough biodiversity out there that I’ll continue to be amazed for years to come.

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