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The decade's top ten new species


Small but able swimmer

As 2010 draws to a close, scientists have been looking back over the array of new species that have been discovered since the beginning of the century.

Some of the weirdest and most scientifically wonderful are featured in a BBC Documentary, Decade of Discovery.

The film-makers collaborated with Conservation International to make the documentary, which has whittled down nature's top ten revelations.

So here is a shortlist of many of the team's favourite new species, listed in reverse order according to how unique, special and surprising they are.

Big red jellyfish (Tiburonia granrojo)

Big red jellyfish (Image: MBARI)
The one-metre-wide jelly was found at a depth of 3,000m

More than 3,000m under the Pacific ocean, researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) used cameras on a remotely operated vehicle to capture the hidden life at that depth.

Out of the darkness emerged a large, one-metre-wide red jellyfish.

Big red, as it has been dubbed, has no tentacles, making it unlike most jellies. Instead, it uses its fleshy arms to capture food. The scientists still do not know what it eats. They say it is a great example of how little we know of the deep sea.

Chan's megastick (Phobaeticus chani)

This is, as its name implies, a huge stick insect.

Largest stick insect in the wordl, Chan's megastick
The largest specimen of Chan's megastick is in London's Natural History Museum

It was found near Gunung Kinabalu Park, Sabah, in the Heart of Borneo and measures more than half a metre in length - the longest insect on the planet.

The largest and one of only a handful of known specimens in the world is held at the Natural History museum in London.

Despite is enormous size virtually nothing is known about it. Scientists believe it lives high up in the rainforest canopy, which has made it hard to find and kept it a secret until now.

Grey-faced sengi (Rhyncocyon udzungwensis)

This sengi or elephant shrew was first discovered in 2006 in Uzungwa National Park, Tanzania. Italian scientist, Francesco Rovero, from the Trento Museum of Natural Sciences caught the tiny mammal on a camera trap.

New species of sengi discovered in Tanzania (Image: Francesco Rovero)
Elephant shrews share a common ancestor with elephants

The grey-faced sengi is much bigger than any other - roughly the size of a rabbit. It weighs about 700g and has a long, flexible nose which resembles an elephant's trunk.

Strangely, elephant shrews are not related to shrews but they do share a common ancestor with elephants.

Bamboo shark (Hemiscyllium galei)

The bamboo shark, also known as the walking shark, was found in 2006 in Cenderawasih Bay in West Papua, Indonesia.

This area of coral reef habitat has such a high level of biodiversity that some researchers call it a "species factory".

Walking shark discovered in Indonesia (Image: Gerry Allen/ Conservation International)
The shark can swim but usually uses its pectoral fins to walk along the reef

Mark Erdmann from Conservation International was the first scientist to lay eyes on this new shark species in 2006.

Although it can swim if it needs to, it usually uses its pectoral fins to walk along the reef and feed amongst the coral.

Scientists raised funds for marine conservation by auctioning the naming rights to the new shark.

Giant slipper orchid (Phragmipedium Kovachii)

This large flamboyant purple flower caused something of a sensation when it was discovered.

It was found in 2001 being sold at the side of the road in the Peruvian Highlands by an orchid hunter and dealer, who illegally imported it to the US.


Giant orchid among the decade's top ten new species

He was duly prosecuted, but the orchid still bears his name. A few legal specimens are now in the hands of a select group of orchid breeders.

With its huge flowers - up to 20cm across - it originates in the Andes mountains of Peru.

Kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji)

This is the first new genus (or group of monkey species) to be discovered since the 1920s.

It was tracked down in 2003 by Tim Davenport, a biologist from the Wildlife Conservation Society, who was working in the Mount Rungwe region of Tanzania.

He was interviewing local people about the animals they hunted and knew about in the forest. A few mentioned a "kipunji", a large monkey which sounded unlike anything else.

When Dr Davenport saw it he knew it was a new species, but later DNA analysis showed that it was actually an entirely new genus.

There were just 1,117 Kipunji in the wild at the last count, making them critically endangered.

Pitcher plant (Nepenthes palawanensis)

New species of pitcher plant discovered in the Philippines (Image: Stewart McPherson)
The large pitcher's slippery sides trap its prey

This giant plant was discovered just this year by botanist Stewart Macpherson who has made it his mission to find and photograph every species of these carnivorous plants around the world.

He found it at the very top of a mountain called Sultan's Peak, on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.

Pitcher plants are named after their highly-specialised leaves that form hollow, water-filled "pitchers".

Insects, such as flies, are attracted by nectar in the pitcher, but its sides are slippery so when prey falls in it cannot climb out.

Langkawi bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus macrotuberculatus)

This extraordinary gecko was first discovered in 2008 on an island off North-western Malaysia by Dr Lee Grismer and his team.

It uses its amazing eyesight and grip to catch its forest-dwelling prey at night.

But what made it a discovery of the decade was that this forest gecko has also recently been found in a limestone cave.

Two new species of gecko discovered in Malaysia (Image: Giles Badger)
The forest-dwelling and cave-dwelling geckos show evolution at work

The cave gecko looks similar to those living in the forest but has some remarkable visible differences.

Dr Grismer believes this could be evolution in the making - a gecko that has evolved to live in a cave.

The lizards may have moved into the caves to avoid predators - specifically pit vipers that live in the forest.

Pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus)

This species, discovered on the island on Escudo de Veraguas off the Carribean coast, shows how quickly the process of evolution can happen.

Pygmy sloth
The pygmy sloth, number one on the list, has a surprising talent

The pygmy sloth has been isolated on its tiny island habitat for just 9,000 years - when rising sea levels cut the island off from the mainland.

The sloths are slower and more placid than their mainland relatives and, remarkably, they can swim.

They seem suitably adapted to their Caribbean island lifestyle.

Pygmy sloths are less than half the size of a normal sloth and they only eat mangrove leaves - a low-nutirent diet that explains their diminutive stature.

There are just 200 of them on the island so every mangrove tree counts for these vulnerable creatures.

Decade of Discovery, a collaboration between Conservation International and the BBC's Natural History Unit, will be broadcast at 20.00BST on Tuesday 14 December on BBC Two.

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