Every year since 2008, SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) has named the top 10 new species discovered during a given year. The group's list for 2018 chronicles a collection of organisms that were officially described in 2017. It contains a range of species, from a massive tree in Brazil to a tiny protist discovered in an aquarium.
"I'm constantly amazed at how many new species show up and the range of things that are discovered," ESF President Quentin Wheeler said in a statement.
While all new discoveries are inherently exciting, many also come with a tinge of sorrow. A number of the species that made ESF's list are endangered or critically endangered thanks to low populations and habitat loss. As Wheeler pointed out, the rate of discovery is outpaced by the rate of extinction.
"We name about 18,000 per year but we think at least 20,000 per year are going extinct. … So many of these species — if we don't find them, name them and describe them now — will be lost forever. And yet they can teach us so much about the intricacies of ecosystems and the details of evolutionary history. Each of them has found a way to survive against the odds of changing competition, climate and environmental conditions. So each can teach us something really worth knowing as we face an uncertain environmental future ourselves."
Knowing that they exist, however, allows us to take action to save these species, hopefully before it's too late.
Swire's snailfish (Pseudoliparis swirei)
This tiny-yet-horrifying deep-sea creature is one of the top predators in the Mariana Trench, feasting on tiny crustaceans. Researchers attracted the 2-inch-long tadpole-looking organism using mackerel traps that took four hours to reach the appropriate depth, somewhere between 22,000 and 26,000 feet (6,898 and 7,966 meters). The image above shows the snailfish's skeletal structure; in the flesh, it looks like a very swollen thumb with eyes and a long tail.
Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis)
The Tapanuli orangutan isn't exactly new. Researchers discovered the species in the 1930s, but it wasn't until 2013 that scientists determined it was a different species from the other orangutans in the region. It wasn't formally described until late in 2017.
Regrettably, the orangutan is already endangered. There are around 800 individuals, and while they live in a protected space in Indonesia, land development still threatens their habitat.
Marsupial lion (Wakaleo schouteni)
About 23 million years ago, a new animal arrived on the scene: the marsupial lion. It roamed through the wilderness of what is now Queensland, Australia. Roughly the size of a Siberian husky, this predator also likely ate plants, at least based on its teeth. Researchers believe that one other marsupial lion species, Wakaleo pitikantensis, was present about 25 million years ago, but that it was smaller than W. schouteni.
Your eyes are not deceiving you: it really does look like long clumps of white hair are growing in the waters of the Canary Island in this photo. Three years after the 2011 eruption of the submarine volcano Tagoro, a new species of protobacteria was found thriving and producing these hair-like structures. Actually bacterial cells in a sheath, this protobacteria formed massive mats of "hair" that stretched for almost half an acre. Thiolava veneris is setting up the ecosystem to begin recovering from the eruption, which wiped out much of the life in the seabed.
This impressive tree — it reaches up to 130 feet (40 meters) in height — numbers only 25 individuals, making it critically endangered. Half of these are in a protected area of Brazil's Atlantic Forest. The trees' fruit is similarly impressive, reaching lengths of about 18 inches.
Discovered in the waters of a San Diego aquarium, researchers aren't sure where in the wild this protist originated, nor have they been able to determine its nearest known relative. What we do know about it is that it's a predatory flagellate that relies on its flagella to move and attack other protists.
No, no, the Nymphister kronaueri isn't an ant. It's a beetle that happens to be incredible good at blending in. This crafty beetle is the precise shape, size and color of the Eciton mexicanum army ant's abdomen. While the beetle can move on its own to feed when these nomadic ants are stationary, it hitches a ride on the ants to get to new locations. What scientists don't yet know is how the beetle doesn't become prey itself.
Why photosynthesize when you can just mooch off others? That's the philosophy of the Sciaphila sugimotoi flower. A heterotrophic plant, this vibrantly colored flower gets its nutrients from a fungus, but it doesn't harm it. Like many of its kind, the delicate flower needs a stable ecosystem to survive, which is bad news since it's already considered critically endangered. The Sciaphila sugimotoi flower has only been found in two locations on Japan's Ishigaki Island, with around 50 confirmed sightings.
Measuring about 2 inches, these amphipods in the Antarctic Ocean were just one of 26 new species in the genus Epimeria. Their colors, some of which you can see above from the Epimeria quasimodo samples collected, make the genus an iconic part of the ocean's waters.
In the dark depths of a Chinese cave lurks a beetle adapted to survive in permanent darkness. The Xuedytes bellus has a dramatic elongation of its head and the part of the body behind the head to which its first pair of legs are attached. Researchers named it bellus, the Latin word for beautiful, because they considered it so.