The New Species On The Block
Jun06

The New Species On The Block

Today’s guest post is by C&EN Associate Editor and frequent Newscripts contributor Michael Torrice. Some of the science stories that thrill me most are ones about researchers traveling to isolated spots on the globe in search of never-before-described species. For that reason, I’m a fan of the annual top 10 list of new species put out by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. (See my Newscripts column on the 2011 list.) Since 2008, the institute has published the list as a way to raise people’s awareness of the Earth’s biodiversity. It announces the list each year on May 23, the birthday of Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy. Botanists, zoologists, entomologists, and other scientists report about 18,000 newly described species every year. The institute solicits nominations for its top 10 from experts and the public via its website. This year, a committee of 13 scientists considered more than 200 nominees. This year’s top 10 includes a pale yellow poppy that grows at an elevation of 10,000 feet in the Himalayas, an iridescent blue tarantula that crawls along the Amazon River basin, and a Malaysian fungus named after the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants (C&EN Senior Editor Jyllian Kemsley wrote about the fungus for Newscripts back in 2011). Here are my favorites. Bulbophyllum nocturnum – The night-blooming orchid. Many plants have flowers that open at night: for example, several species of cacti and water lilies. But out of the 25,000 known species of orchid, this species, reported in 2011, is the only one scientists have found that blooms after the sun sets. André Schuiteman of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, in the U.K., and his colleagues observed the nighttime flowers only after a colleague brought the plant back from a rainforest in Papua New Guinea. By light of day, the researcher had found it growing on a fallen tree. When the botanists started cultivating the orchid in the U.K., they noticed small flower buds, but never actually saw them open. “Someone had the bright idea to bring the plant home and see what it did at night,” Schuiteman says. The scientist then witnessed the flowers opening after 10 p.m. and closing by morning. The team doesn’t know which species of insect pollinates the orchid. Schuiteman suspects some species of fly mistakes the odd-looking flowers for fungus. The yellow-green flowers have “strange appendages that move with the slightest air current,” Schuiteman says. “They look like fungi or insects or spiders.” They also have a faint fungus-like odor, he says. Kollasmosoma sentum – The dive-bombing wasp. Not all new species discoveries happen at 10,000 feet or in a...

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