Top 10 new species of 2009

The International Institute for Species Exploration, an organization new to me, has named the Top 10 Species of the Year (the full list, with photos and desriptions, is here).  These were all discovered in 2009, and are pretty cool.  They include the Attenborough’s Pitcher from the Philippines, an “udderly weird” yam, a fanged minnow, a penis-shaped mushroom from São Tomé, the island where we work, and, of course, the fantastically colored frogfish. We’ve met Histiophryne psychedelica before, but there’s a new video that shows its weird “hopping” behavior.

And here is Phallus drewesii, a new stinkhorn mushroom from São Tomé.  Named after Robert Drewes, curator of herpetology at the Cal Academy, this species was the subject of a segment on NPR’s “Wait wait, don’t tell me.”

Just for perspective,  in 2008—the last year for which data are available—18,225 new living species were described, along with 2,140 fossil ones.  What a bounty!  Let’s not blow it.

8 Comments

  1. Insightful Ape
    Posted May 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    So this organism’s name is actually “phallus”?

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted May 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    When the male frogfish goes to the tailor, he is asked “To which side does the gentleman’s tail dress?”

  3. Doc Bill
    Posted May 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    You’d think after all the years I’ve been called “phallus” in Anglo Saxon, not to mention stinkhorn (if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that!) at the very least they should have considered Phallus docbillii.

    Srsly.

  4. SaintStephen
    Posted May 24, 2010 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    A psychedelic, pink and purple colored frog fish with blue eyes, with a curved tail that uses its fins to hop along the bottom.

    Sayyyyyyyy… WHAT?

    I wonder if all the tails curve the same way. Is the curved tail an adaptation, or a spandrel? Hmmmmm?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 24, 2010 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Sayyyyyyyy… evolution, for ya’. Another missing link in the chain that ties creationism to a falsified ‘designer’.

      As for the biology, I’m looking at the movie, and there is no “curved tail” trait that I can see. There is, apparently, a trait of preferentially holding the tail curved in either direction. (Even, I think, in the same individual but the cuts make that uncertain.) But one can also see it perfectly straight.

      Since it looks like the species is inhabiting a stream environment and that correlates with the tail position, it may have to do with its peculiar mode of locomotion. (Too many possibilities to make a likely guess; “stream” coefficient, stability, interaction with the gill jetting, “tumbling in the stream” profile instead of a fish one, …)

      That would likely make it a functional trait, yes?

      Btw, are there traits that are non-functional, as I assume spandrels mean? Or are they defined out, i.e. do traits have to be functional? If not, how do the mapping from genes, that are functional, to non-functional traits work? Or are they transient “pseudotraits” in analogy with no longer functional “pseudogenes”?

      This is a confusing subject. Now _my_ tail is curved. (o.O)

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 24, 2010 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        Um, no, googling get that back as “byproduct”.

        Still confusing, because technical byproducts aren’t part of the product. Say, paper punch material after making punched A4 paper. In a technical sense a spandrel would then be something like a discarded placenta or dropped hair. Not quite “pseudotraits”, but still transient. And products of adaptation, surely.

        It would help if I could find an example, but apparently there are none(??. So why is it discussed as an apposition to adaptation, I’ve seen it mentioned before?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 24, 2010 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        Oh, that came out hopelessly confused!

        First, I think I confused the functionality of the gene machinery with the actual environmental function of the genes. Changed environment or drift makes the leeway in the mapping, it’s not one-to-one. (And certainly not as per gene vs trait basis anyway.)

        Second, I can now somewhat see how one can look at byproducts as part of the product, say electronics making a heat source.

        In such a way one could look at an armpit as a byproduct of having a functional arm. Except that it isn’t of course, it is part of the connective tissue between arm and body. (And, seeing the secondary sexual characteristic of hair, has had other uses as well.)

        Similarly, when I look up spandrel as such, it is the (sometimes empty) surface element connecting an arch and a wall and ceiling of a rectilinear building. So it has an architectural use analogous to the armpit connectivity.

        I guess what remains, and should be asked in a more informative manner, is there a biological observable definition of “spandrel” and has it ever been observed? Seeing that a technical “byproduct” characteristic that is still part of the product is iffy to define in the first place, I wonder if that is feasible. [I'm not sure how to do that for technology except perhaps "unintended function", which is decidedly different from "not part of the final product".]

        Is this an old theoretical concept that never got used?

  5. SaintStephen
    Posted May 25, 2010 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    I just now read your most generous reply, Mr. Larsson, and I thank you very kindly for your time!


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