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Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world

"Udderly weird yam" and "killer sponge" among top 10 new species of 2010

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carnivorous spongeEvery year hundreds if not thousands of new species are described for the first time by science. And every year, the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) takes a look at the previous year's new species and picks the "Top 10 New Species".

This year's list—containing species first found in 2009—contains some doozies: a bug-eating slug, an electric fish, a "far-out frogfish" and several other fun and weird creatures.

Unfortunately, at least two of these species may already be critically endangered and should be listed on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, according to the scientists who discovered them. For example, Attenborough's pitcher (Nepenthes attenboroughii) is a huge carnivorous plant found only on a single island in the Philippines, making it vulnerable to extinction. And the plant the IISE dubs the "udderly weird yam" (common name Angona, scientific name Dioscorea orangeana), which grows multiple tubers that hang like an udder, is heavily harvested by locals in northern Madagascar from its unprotected habitat. (The locals, of course, knew it existed long before scientists did.)

Other newly discovered species include the bug-eating slug called the Aiteng (Aiteng ater), the first known member of its family; the psychedelic frogfish (Histiophryne psychedelica), named thus for its trippy exterior (and unique among frogfish in that it is flat-faced); and a carnivorous sponge known only as Chondrocladia (Meliiderma) turbiformis. This particular "killer sponge" made the list due to its unique spicule (a small spinelike structure) for which a new term, "trochirhabd," has been coined. You would have to go back to the Jurassic period to find another spicule of its type in evolutionary history.

There's also the Omars' banded knifefish (Gymnotus omarorum), an electric-charged species that was misclassified as a similar fish for 30 years before scientists realized it was its own species.

Image: Carnivorous sponge Chondrocladia (Meliiderma) turbiformis, courtesy of the IISE and Jean Vacelet

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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