There are a few months left to go still, but 2014 has already brought us some amazing animal discoveries, from tiny tarsiers to venomous jellyfish. We’ve rounded up our favourites for this Tuesday Top 10 countdown (and since it’s been a week of awards show buzz, we’ve thrown in a celebrity bonus round right at the end).
Its call differed only slightly from that of its relatives, but the simple lack of a 'click' was enough distinction for researchers to uncover Boophis ankarafensis, a species of colourful tree frog endemic to a small area in north-western Madagascar. Sadly, the tiny habitat of this new amphibian may also lead to its demise. Although the Sahamalaza-Iles Radama National Park where the species was discovered is a protected area, rampant deforestation plagues the park, with much of the destruction concentrated on the stream-side forests on which Boophis ankarafensis relies for survival. According to the researchers involved, one big fire could be enough to wipe out the entire species. (For more frog finds, check out these see-through amphibians recently discovered in Peru.)
It's not a clear-cut case of species discovery, but this tarsier taxonomic tangle is still worth a place on the list. The tiny and adorable primates from south-east Asia are highly threatened, yet efforts to conserve them have been hampered by lack of research and knowledge. This month brought us a new study to fill some of these knowledge gaps, shedding light on tarsier genetic diversity and distribution. The new research also identified a new, genetically unique tarsier lineage: the Dinagat-Caraga tarsier. The study's authors believe their research will help direct conservation efforts to areas where the threatened tarsiers need them most.
The world's jellyfish family got two new members this year. Out of the waters of Western Australia came two new – and highly venomous! – species. The large, barrel-shaped Keesingia gigas (pictured) and much tinier Malo bella can inflict painful stings that induce what's known as Irukandji syndrome, a condition that can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, spasms and breathing difficulties (which can be fatal if not treated quickly). With the two new Australian additions, the total number of known 'Irukandji jellies' worldwide now sits at 16.
It's more than likely the distinctive patterning and high altitude habitat of Lycodon zoosvictoriae that helped this elusive wolf snake stay hidden from the enquiring eyes of researchers for so long. But earlier this year, a team from Fauna & Flora International (FFI) discovered the previously unknown snake hiding out in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains, an area that is proving rich in biodiversity, with eight new species of snakes having already been uncovered there since 2000. Its scientific name is a hat tip to the Zoological Parks and Gardens Board of Victoria, which has supported FFI's studies in the region for several years.
Bush tiger mantis
Fierce hunting skills run in the mantid family and the newly discovered bush tiger mantis (Dystacta tigrifrutex) is no exception. The predatory insect got its name thanks to its cat-like habit of stalking prey in the thick undergrowth of Rwanda's remote Nyungwe National Park. Unlike many other mantises, females of the species are wingless, so they're adapted for catching insects close to the ground. It's likely the bush tiger mantis is found only in the Rwandan park, leading researchers to emphasise the importance of protecting the area.
Kumbara night frog
Meet the Kumbara night frog (Nyctibatrachus kumbara), a new species discovered in the forests of India's Western Ghats. When the amphibians get amorous, things get a little acrobatic – and their mating behaviour is thought to be unique to the species. As part of the mating ritual, the pair will stand on their hind legs, before the female performs a handstand (with the male on her back!) and begins to lay her eggs. The eggs are also covered with mud to protect them, which is how the frog got its name (Kumbara means 'potter' in the language spoken in the region where the frogs live).
After a bit of taxonomic reshuffling, this brightly coloured Bolivian bat emerged as a new species this year. It was previously incorrectly classified as another bat found in South America, but close inspection of some museum specimens allowed researchers to determine it was a species in its own right. Its golden hue earned it the Latin name Myotis midastactus, a nod to the Greek legend of King Midas and his golden touch. The bat is thought to be found only in Bolivia.
A study published early this year presented strong evidence for the existence of a new species of river dolphin – the first such find in a century – in the Araguaia River Basin in Brazil. The researchers noted that Inia araguaiaensis (the suggested name for the species) was sufficiently different genetically from other river dolphins (or botos) to warrant designation as a separate species. The Araguaian boto most likely separated from its cousins more than two million years ago, according to the study. The bad news? The authors of the study warned that the proposed new species faced a number of threats, including degradation of its riverine habitat.
We’ve seen arachnids that twerk, but this newly described species (nicknamed the 'flic-flac' spider) discovered in the Moroccan Sahara delighted us with its own brand of acrobatics, designed to evade predators. The spider’s 'flic-flac' flipping behaviour doubles its speed, but it takes a lot of energy, according to Peter Jäger, a taxonomist at the Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, who identified the species. Performing this costly move five to ten times in one day would kill the spider – so it really is a last resort!
From sea slugs and strelitzia flowers to entire slivers of coastline, there are a number of things in the natural world named after the late South African president and global icon Nelson Mandela. And early this year, a new animal species was added to that list: a tiny crustacean discovered off the South African coast. Now known as Munidopsis mandelai, the new find is a type of squat lobster, a crustacean that resembles true lobsters, but is typically smaller and more flattened in shape. With a carapace that measures just 7mm in length, Munidopsis mandelai is pretty tiny, and was first discovered by researchers at a depth of 750m in a relatively unexplored area off the South African coast known as the Southwest Indian Ocean Ridge.
And now for the celebrity bonus round ...
The Jennifer Lopez mite
2014 brought us a new Jenny on the block. Litarachna lopezae was discovered in Bajo de Sico, a reef formation located off Puerto Rico, by a team of scientists from the University of Puerto Rico and Caribbean Coral Reef Institute. The instect's Latin name pays homage to the Puerto Rican pop star, whose music kept the researchers going during their work on the species (though we can't help but notice the likeness between the mite's big-bottomed physique and Lopez's iconic derriere). L. lopezae lives in waters nearly 70 metres (229 feet) deep – making it the deepest diver in its family. And just like its celeb namesake, this water-dwelling diva seems to have a flare for fashion: it was caught hanging out in the tube of the magnificent feather duster worm (Sabellastarte magnifica).
The Shakira wasp
Colombian singer Shakira is another celebrity who was honoured taxonomically this year. A newly discovered species of wasp was given the Latin name Aleiodes shakirae, in a nod to the singer's belly-dancing moves. The wasp belongs to a family of 'parasitoids', which means females of the species deposit their eggs to develop inside the bodies of live hosts. In the case of Aleiodes shakira, the eggs are injected into a particular type of caterpillar, whose body provides a convenient food supply for the wasp larva once they hatch. The wasp invasion causes the unfortunate caterpillar to bend and twist in an unusual way – which is where the Shakira moniker comes in. A. shakirae was just one of 24 new wasp species discovered in the eastern Andes mountains of Ecuador.