Meet This Year’s Top 10 New Species

Robert Bolland
Robert Bolland / Robert Bolland

A spider that cartwheels when it’s in danger, a thrifty wasp that uses dead ants as a security system, and a dinosaur that looks like an oversize chicken all make this year’s Top 10 New Species list. Created each year by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, the list highlights the 10 most fascinating species from the nearly 18,000 new species identified in the past year. And this year’s selections are interesting, to say the least.

1. The Enormous Chicken

Mark A. Klingler, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Scientific name: Anzu wyliei

Described by scientists as the “chicken from hell,” this prehistoric critter looked like a cross between a bird and a lizard. It had delicate feathers and a parrot-like beak, but also weighed in at a whopping 600 pounds. Three partial skeletons of the 5-foot-tall, 10-foot-long creature were found last year in North and South Dakota.

2. The Beautiful Parasite

P.B. Pelser & J.F. Barcelona

Scientific name: Balanophora coralliformis

This plant looks like it could live underwater as part of a colorful coral reef, but it’s actually found on the mossy, forested side of a mountain in the Philippines. It’s also a parasite, drawing its nutrition from other plants instead of creating its own energy through photosynthesis. Already considered endangered, the plant grows in an unprotected area in which less than 50 specimens have been found. 

3. The Acrobatic Arachnid 

Prof. Dr. Ingo Rechenberg, Technical University Berlin

Scientific name: Cebrennus rechenbergi

When a threat approaches this spider, it first tries to look tough. If it still feels like it’s in danger, this Moroccan arachnid doesn’t just run from predators — it cartwheels down sand dunes. The spinning exit is about twice as fast as a spider’s normal scurry. The sandy environment doesn’t stop the spider as it cartwheels up and down hills and across flat terrain.

4. The Wasp Master of Disguise

Michael Staab

Scientific name: Deuteragenia ossarium

This wasp is a mother with a dark side. Found in China, she builds a nest with little pockets, and in each individual cell she places an egg and a spider she’s paralyzed for nutrition. When she gets to the last cell, though, things get weird: The mother fills it with the bodies of dead ants, whose scent camouflages the scent of her eggs inside.  This practice protects them from parasites by either concealing their smell or because no parasite is willing to mess with these ants.

5. The Frog That Does Things Its Own Way

Jimmy A. McGuire

Scientific name: Limnonectes larvaepartus

This new species of fanged frog took a researcher by surprise when he picked one up and it gave birth to live tadpoles in his hand. Most frogs lay eggs, but this particular species, found in Indonesia, skips that step and cranks out tadpoles. It’s the only type of frog out of the 6455 frog species in the world to give birth like this (a few other frogs give birth to froglets, minature versions of the adults).

6. The Species That Always Carries a Big Stick

Jonathan Brecko

Scientific name: Phryganistria tamdaoensis

Joining a family of giant sticks, this newcomer stands a statuesque 9 inches tall. They might be big, but they’re also particularly good at hiding. Like other giant sticks, P. tamdaoensis is skilled at camouflaging itself in nature. It’s still nowhere near as big as the record-holding stick insect (the even more impressive “megastick”), which is 14 inches long.

7. The Slug With Style

Robert Bolland

Scientific name: Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum

This new species of sea slug is exceptionally colorful, with a zigzag pattern that brightens up the waters around the Japanese islands it calls home. The gastropod was an exciting find for scientists, as it helped them to better understand the relationship between other species of similar sea slugs.

8. The Festive Find

A. Espejo

Scientific name: Tillandsia religiosa

Villagers in Mexico put together altar scenes called nacimientos to celebrate Christmas each year, and they often use a colorful, spiky plant in their displays. It turns out that the species of plant that pops up in the holiday decorations is a species previously undocumented by scientists. T. religiosa grows on cliffs and vertical walls in a rocky region in Mexico, and flowers from December through March.

9. The Artistic Pufferfish

Yoji Okata

Scientific name: Torquigener albomaculosus

Elaborate circles with geometric designs have cropped up on the seafloor off the coast of Japan’s Amami-Oshima Island, a la Signs, for the past 20 years. Scientists finally solved the mystery—the circles are created by a newly discovered pufferfish. The male pufferfish drag themselves across the sand to create these nests with the hope that they’ll attract female pufferfish. The ridges formed in the sand reduce the ocean current in the circle’s center to offer some protection to eggs that might be laid there.

10. The Classification Conundrum

Jørgen Olesen

Scientific name: Dendrogramma enigmatica

This animal found near Australia gets its name from how mysterious it is to scientists, who can’t pin down the phylum to which the multicellular animal belongs. Scientists think they might be grouped with animals like jellyfish and sea anemones, or they might be living fossils, or they might just be from a never-before-seen phylum.