Environment & Science

Wasps, slugs and dinos! Pick the coolest new species of 2015

New species, Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum Photograph: Robert Bolland
New species, Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum Photograph: Robert Bolland
Robert Bolland

Every year, scientists study and classify about 18,000 new species around the world.

That's pretty amazing.

Even more amazing is the fact that researchers think there are 10 million more lifeforms yet to be discovered. So far we've only catalogued about 2 million.

To highlight this, the International Institute for Species Exploration puts out a list of the 10 coolest, most fascinating and most bizarre newly classified plants and animals.

Check them out, and vote for your favorite below.

Anzu wyliei: The dino-chicken!

(Life reconstruction of the new oviraptorosaurian dinosaur species Anzu wyliei in its ~66 million- year-old environment in western North America. Illustration: Mark A. Klingler, Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

Hailing from the U.S.A.,  this 66 million year old dinosaur made nests and sat on the eggs until they hatched like a chicken would. Adding to its bird-like features are a beak-like snout, hollow bones and even feathers. It's well preserved bones were discovered in North and South Dakota. This dino-chicken was more than 10 feet in length (3.5m), 5 feet in height (1.5m) and 600 pounds (200-300kg).


Balanophora coralliformis: Parasitic tubers!

(Staminate inflorescence. Photographs: P.B. Pelser & J.F. Barcelona)

This plant from the Philippines has long branching limbs and bumpy skin, making it resemble a piece of a coral reef. However, it doesn't live under the sea, but rather it is a root parasite that lives above ground. It has no chlorophyll and cannot photosynthesize, so it gets its strength by feeding on other plants. Almost immediately after being discovered, it was considered endangered because only 50 plants have been found  in the mossy forests on the southwestern slopes of Mt. Mingan.


Cebrennus rechenbergi: The cartwheeling spider!

(Cartwheeling spider, Erg Chebbi, Morocco. Photographs: Prof. Dr. Ingo Rechenberg, Technical University Berlin)

This spider comes from Morocco and is quite the gymnast. When it feels sufficiently threatened by a predator, it begins tumbling like a wheel. Rather than running away, which would be hard in the open desert, this spider rolls right at the aggressor! Yikes! It can tumble across flat ground and up hills, so don't make this critter angry or it will come for you.

Dendrogramma enigmatica: Mysterious sea mushroom

(Dendrogramma enigmatica, lateral and aboral views. Photographs taken after shrinkage Photographs: Jørgen Olesen)

Found off Point Hicks, Victoria, this multicellular animal looks like a mushroom with a mouth at one end and a parasol at the other. They are likely related to the phylum Cnidaria (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones and hydras) and / or Ctenophora (comb jellies). But they could also be an entirely new phylum. They are small, less than a third of an inch long and found on the sea floor about 3,200 feet down. Scientists have plenty of questions about this mysterious creature, but it's not yet divulging its secrets.

Deuteragenia ossarium: Mighty mother wasp

(​A female of Deuteragenia ossarium in its natural ecosystem in South East China. Photograph: Michael Staab)

This half-inch Chinese wasp is a cold blooded killer and a determined mother. It plants its eggs in the hollow stems of plants. Then it creates little compartments in front of the eggs, each with soil walls separating them.  It fills the compartments with the bodies of dead spiders so it's newly hatched offspring will have something to eat after being born. The final compartment is filled with the bodies of up to 13 dead ants. These bodies emit volatile chemicals that thwart any would-be predators. Now, that's motherly love!

Limnonectes larvaepartus: Mother of tadpoles

(Calling male Limonecetes larvaepartus photographed on a small pool adjacent to a rocky stream on the island of Sulawesi; note the tadpoles of the same species adjacent to the male. Photographs: Jimmy A. McGuire)

Can you spot the tadpole above? It was born in a unique way. While most species of frogs lay eggs or in some rare cases, give birth to little froggies, this new species does something different. It gives birth to fully formed tadpoles. This is the first time scientists have seen this. In fact, one scientist capturing the animals for study saw this happen in their own hand! These fanged frogs are 1.5 inches long and come from Indonesia.

Phryganistria tamdaoensis: The new stick on the block

(Phryganistria tamdaoensis female on arm. Photograph: Jonathan Brecko)

This nine inch critter belongs to a species known as giant sticks. Found around the mountains of Tam Dao National Park in Vietnam, this animal is a master of camouflage. In fact it is so sneaky that for years it eluded entomologists studying in the region. Its recent discovery provides evidence that there may be more giant sticks out there hiding in plain sight.

Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum: Psychedelic sea slug

(New species, Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum. Photograph: Robert Bolland)

This sea slug looks like it's decked out for a rave. In reality, it lives far from the dance floor in the waters near Japan. It's about an inch long and is seen as a “missing link” between other known types of sea slugs. It's got showy spines of blue, red and gold and is truly a deep sea wonder. 

Tillandsia religiosa: The Christmas plant

(Tillandsia religiosa habitat. Photographs: A. Espejo)

While this colorful plant may be new to scientists, it's well known to many in Mexico. From the northern regions of the Mexican state of Morelos, it's often used in altar scenes or “nacimientos” that depict the birth of Christ. This striking and pointy plant flowers from December to March.

Torquigener albomaculosus: The crop-circle fish

(A male (right) biting on the left cheek of a female (left) while they were spawning. Photographs: Yoji Okata) 

For two decades scientists were puzzled by mysterious circular structures found on the sea floor near Japan. Were these patterns made by waves, animals or even underwater aliens?  It turns out these ocean crop circles were the work of a new species of puffer fish. These elaborate structures are made as the males wriggle through the sea sand. The goal is to lure a female there for mating purposes. Scientists have found the elaborate nest design is not only cool to look at but also protects eggs from ocean currents.

(A spawning nest (mystery circle) of Torquigener albomaculosus found at 26m depth on a sandy bottom along the south coast of Amami-Oshima Island in the Ryukyu Islands. Photographs: Yoji Okata)