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New critters from China, US — welcome to the family!

China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-05-25 23:10

From the roughly 18,000 new species of life discovered each year, the IISE (International Institute for Species Exploration) picks a Top 10 list and releases it on the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus (May 23), the Father of Modern Taxonomy, that two-name Latin system for sorting out and filing every living thing on Earth.

"I'm constantly amazed at how many new species show up and the range of things that are discovered," said Quentin Wheeler, president of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, which hosts the institute.

"Each of them has found a way to survive against the odds of changing competition, climate and environmental conditions," Wheeler explained, "so each can teach us something really worth knowing as we face an uncertain environmental future ourselves."

This year, creatures from both the US and China made the top ten.

They join the ranks of a majestic Brazilian Atlantic Forest tree that towers up to 130 feet and a tiny single-celled protist, an extinct marsupial lion that prowled the Australian outback in the Oligocene Epoch (34 million to 23 million BC) and a rare Sumatran orangutan, which brings to seven the number of great ape species in the world (it is also the most endangered, with only about 800 individuals living in a mountainside region of 250,000 acres).

From the icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean comes a 2-inch-long multi-legged amphipod named for Victor Hugo's hunchback of Notre Dame Quasimodo because of its humped back, a "baffling beetle" from Costa Rica that camouflages itself to live among one species of army ants by resembling its hosts' stomachs and a snail fish from the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the planet's oceans.

China's contribution to the Top 10 list comes from the eternal darkness of the Du'an caves of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. A troglobitic beetle about an inch and a half long that is "striking in the dramatic elongation of its head and prothorax" — the body segment immediately behind the head where the first pair of legs attach.

Like much of southern China, Guangxi is a vast limestone region riddled with caves and home to the greatest diversity of this family of ground beetles in the world. To date, more than 130 species from 50 genera have been described from China. Many of them are examples of convergent evolution, that is, unrelated species developing similar characteristics in response to the same forces.

"This new one (dubbed Xuedytes bellus) is a spectacular addition to the fauna," the report says.

The contribution to the list from the US is not really from the US, but it could be. Discovered in an aquarium in San Diego, California, a single-celled predatory flagellate named Ancoracysta twista is posing a challenge to scientists to determine its nearest living relatives.

It was found in a tropical aquarium at the Scripts Institution of Oceanography on a cluster of brain coral. Its geographical origin in the wild is unknown. The enigmatic creature uses its whip-like flagellum, or tail-like appendage, to propel itself and has unusual organelles that harpoon and stun the other protists it feeds on.

Scientists say the twista has an unusually large number of genes in its mitochondrial genome that could be a key to unlocking the early evolution of all similar creatures. Give it up, Twista.

Wheeler says that while modern science names about 18,000 new species a year, it's believed that at least 20,000 species go extinct at the same time.

"So many of these species — if we don't find them, name them and describe them now — will be lost forever," he said in a statement, putting responsibility for the rate of extinctions squarely on humans. "What we can't do is bring back species once they're gone."

Linnaeus began his inventory of life on Earth in the 18th century and placed about 10,000 species on to the tree of life according to their kingdom, phyla, class, order, family and genera.

To date we have named about 2 million. Scientists estimate there are about 10 million out there. The chore continues.

Contact the writer at chrisdavis@chinadailyusa.com

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