On May 23, the International Institute for Species Exploration announced its fifth annual top 10 list of newly described or discovered species. Over 18,000 species were officially described in 2011. The species that make the list are chosen to highlight species exploration, biodiversity, and the science of taxonomy.
The release of the list coincided with the anniversary of the birth of Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist responsible for the modern system of naming and classifying living organisms. Linnaeus would be 315 years old this year. In his lifetime, he knew of about 10,000 species. The best estimate of scientists today is that there are close to 12 million living species, of which 2 million have been described since 1758.
This year's list is full of colorful characters. There's Rhinopithecus strykeri, the sneezing monkey. This primate was brought to the attention of scientists by locals in Myanmar while conducting a survey of the country's gibbons. Hunters told the team about a snub-nosed monkey that could be found by waiting until it rained and then listening for sneezes in the trees. Rainwater can drip into the monkey's upturned nose, so it tends to sneeze -- or sit with its head between its legs to avoid dripping water.
There's the nefarious-sounding Halicephalobus mephisto, or devil's worm. These tiny (about 0.5 mm) worms were discovered almost a mile deep in a South African gold mine, living in water that had not been in contact with the earth's atmosphere for at least 4,000 years. They are the deepest-living terrestrial multicellular organisms on Earth.
Scientists were also creative in naming Crurifarcimen vagans, a millipede whose name roughly translates to "wandering leg sausage." It was discovered in the forests of Tanzania's Eastern Arc Mountains, at elevations of 940 to 1,800 meters. The millipede has a thick, sausage-like body, about 1.5 cm in diameter, and 56 body segments, each bearing two pairs of legs.