May 25, 2009 / 5:45 AM / 9 years ago

Tiny seahorse, ghost slug on list of top 10 new species

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - A pea-sized seahorse, a “ghost” slug and the world’s smallest snake measuring just 104 mm (4.1 inches) were among the top 10 new species discovered in 2008, according to a committee of international scientists.

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and an international committee of taxonomists compiled the list from thousands of species found across the globe last year.

Also in the top 10 were a caffeine-free coffee plant from Cameroon, a bacteria that lives in hairspray found by Japanese scientists, a gigantic palm from Madagascar that flowers itself to death, and a deep blue damselfish.

Rounding out the 10 were a snail with a shell that twists around four axes found in limestone hills in Malaysia, the world’s longest insect from Borneo that stretches 56.7 cms (22.3 inches) and looks like a twig, and a fossilized specimen of the oldest known life-bearing vertebrate from Western Australia.

Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist and director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University, said the list helped draw attention to biodiversity, the field of taxonomy, and the importance of natural history museums and botanical gardens in a fun way.

“Charting the species of the world and their unique attributes are essential parts of understanding the history of life,” Wheeler said in a statement.

“It is in our own self-interest as we face the challenges of living on a rapidly changing planet.”

Among the top 10 picks was a tiny seahorse -- or Hippocampus satomiae -- with a standard length of 13.8 mms (0.54 inches) and a height of 11.5 mms (0.45 inches).

This pygmy species was found near Derawan Island off Kalimantan, Indonesia. The name -- satomiae -- was given to the seahorse after Satomi Onishi, the dive guide who collected the type specimens.

The world’s smallest snake, the Barbados Threadsnake, was found in St. Joseph Parish in Barbados.

The eerily pale “ghost slug” was a surprising find in a densely populated area of Cardiff, Wales, while the damselfish was found in deep-reef habitat off the coast of Ngemelis Island.

Wheeler said the annual top 10 new species list commemorated the anniversary of the birth of Swedish scientist Carolus Linnaeus, who initiated the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications. Last year marked the 300th anniversary of his birth.

He said there are an estimated 1.8 million species that have been described since Linnaeus initiated the modern systems for naming plants and animals in the 18th century and scientists estimate there are between 2 million and 100 million species on earth, though most set the number closer to 10 million.

While scientists are still classifying the species found in 2008, the vast majority of the 18,516 species named in 2007 were invertebrate animals (75.6 percent), vascular plants (11.1 percent) and vertebrates (6.7 percent).

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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