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Earth is home to an incredible array of living organisms. Mainly out of the public eye, taxonomists document thousands of new species – an average of 18,000 new species are discovered each year. Scientists estimate as many as 10 million living plants and animals are still to be discovered. These species explorers advance our knowledge about the diversity of life forms and their distribution in our biosphere.
Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) at ASU, and Sara Pennak, manager of IISE’s popular State of Observed Species reports, sort through thousands of amazing discoveries to create an annual Top 10 New Species list. Among the entries are incredible species – including night-blooming orchids, kite-shaped venomous jellyfish, hairy blue tarantulas and sneezing monkeys.
In their new book, titled “What On Earth? 100 of Our Planet’s Most Amazing New Species,” Wheeler and Pennak share some of the most intriguing discoveries from the past decade – complete with color photographs.
“One thing that makes us human is our innate curiosity about ourselves, our origins and our place in the universe,” says Wheeler. “A critically important part of the answer lies in the complex story of evolution. As we piece together the history of Earth’s species, we begin to appreciate our status as a species within evolutionary history.”
Since all life on Earth depends on healthy, resilient ecosystems, sustainable biodiversity may help ensure the survival of as many and as diverse species as possible, adds Wheeler. Diverse ecosystems are more resilient to unexpected change and more likely to adapt to future stressors.
Taking on the role of “taxonomic tour guides,” the authors highlight new species ranging from the deadliest to the most beautiful, and the oldest to the most endangered. From nearly 200,000 species named over the past decade, the authors picked the top 100 they personally found fascinating, disgusting or simply cool.
Among their selections:
Prettiest – Kovach’s orchid: This Peruvian orchid’s discoverers were charged with illegally importing and possessing an endangered species.
Strangest – Dumbo octopus: This octopus’s “Dumbo-like ears” are actually fins, spanning half as wide as the creature’s length.
Tiniest – Child of Cyprus tiny fish: At .35 inch, this fish is the smallest known backboned animal.
Biggest – Sir Raffles’ Showy flower: One of the largest flowers in the world – spanning up to 40 inches and weighing 20 pounds, it emits an odor that smells like rotting flesh.
Best-Named – Groening’s sand crab: Named in honor of “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening for his promotion of crustaceans.