Welcome to our World
(January 4th, 2017) Just when you thought, all the world's animals, plants and fungi have been discovered, new species pop up in unusual places - on Facebook, the deep sea and even in Europe. Here's our selection of newly-described species.
A new octopus
On deep-sea expeditions near the Hawaiian Archipelago, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven, Germany, and colleagues, encountered a ghost-like mollusc. The octopod, later named Casper after the famous cartoon ghost, has a mantle length of only 6.5 cm and was observed at a phenomenal depth of 4 km. “Until we made these observations, we had assumed that these octopuses only occur at depths of up to 2,600 metres. But the species discovered can now be seen to colonise much greater depths," says AWI scientist Autun Purser in a press release. And there are even more peculiarities about this species. “At a depth of 4,000 metres, these animals had deposited their eggs onto the stems of dead sponges, which in turn had grown on manganese nodules. The nodules served as the only anchoring point for the sponges on the otherwise very muddy seafloor. This means that without the manganese nodules, the sponges would not have been able to live in this spot; and without sponges the octopuses would not have found a place to lay their eggs,” the AWI researcher explains. Casper doesn't yet have a scientific name but the scientists think that it “almost certainly is an undescribed species”.
Photo: Jason 2 ROV team
A new truffle
Whilst actually looking for ectomycorrhizal root communities in the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, US-American scientists came across some well-known fungi but also a new truffle species, Tuber arnoldianum. “In this place where people thought there were no truffles, we documented eight species,” Matthew Smith, one of the first describers, told the Boston Globe. “There’s so much hidden biology in a place that you would expect to know a lot.” The scientists say that the new truffle is an “aggressive colonizer of native as well as non-native hosts and may have utility in forestry and restoration”. But can it be used in the kitchen as well? Perhaps not. “For me, the truffles are more valuable to keep as specimens for study (…) There weren’t usually enough collected to be tempted to sacrifice a few for tasting,” Rosanne Healy, co-author of the study, shared.
Photo: Rosanne Healy, University of Florida
A new anglerfish
At ocean depths of approximately 1,500 metres lives Lasiognathus dinema, a small (3 to 9 cm) but fierce looking anglerfish. Scientists from the University of Washington discovered three females during a dive, assessing damage to natural resources after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. “The name dinema, is derived from the Greek, di, a prefix meaning ‘two,’ and nema, ‘thread,’ in allusion to the two elongate, thread-like prolongations emerging anteriorly from the bases of the escal hooks of this species,” the discoverers explain. And they make an assumption. “Based on the musculature and anatomy, it looks like they have a great deal of control over the 'fishing rod'”.
Photo: Theodore Pietsch, University of Washington
A new sundew
Before any scientist could properly describe it, Drosera magnifica had already gained fame on social media – what a modern plant. “I was really surprised when I first saw the picture posted on Facebook by Reginaldo Vasconcelos featuring this amazing new species. I was especially surprised, not only because it seemed to be a completely new species, but it was a gigantic plant,” Paulo Gonella from the University of Sao Paulo tells IFLScience. By gigantic, he means up to one and a half meters in length, making it the second-largest carnivorous plant in the Americas and the largest sundew in the New World. The plant could hide her existence for so long because it only grows on the summit of a single mountain in Brazil, 1,500 metres high. “The discovery of Drosera is not an isolated event. I already got many replies from colleagues that also have spotted potential new species in photos posted on Facebook, Flickr and discussion forums, and are now preparing official descriptions. Social media has become an important tool as they approximate botanists and plant enthusiasts in their common interest in plant diversity,” Gonella added.
Photo: Paulo Gonella, University of Sao Paolo
A new snake
And, yes, even Europe has its zoological secrets. Unbeknown to the rest of the world, a viper has been slithering through the north-western Italian Alps. Despite resembling the European adder (Vipera berus) on the outside; on the inside (the genome), the two reptiles don't have much in common. “The new species is remarkably distinct genetically from both V. berus and other vipers occurring in western Europe. It shows closer affinities to V. darevskii and V. kaznakovi, species occurring in the Caucasus as well as to the widespread Meadow Viper V. ursinii complex,” Stuart Marsden, conservationist at the Manchester Metropolitan Unversity writes in his blog. But all is not well for the newcomer as its very existence is threatened. “Vipera walser appears to inhabit open areas, often with rocky outcrops, and may not tolerate woodland. Areas like the Alps experienced a long period of expansion up to the 19th century, with large areas of the Alps converted to pasture and heathlands, which were good for V. walser,” Marsden says. But now, with more and more grazing land being abandoned, Vipera's home is changing. And the scientists fear that the snake, along with its entire family, is in “serious danger of being lost”.
Photo: Sylvain Ursenbacher, University Basle