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Two of Year’s Top Ten New Species Discovered by Museum Scientists

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Stereomicrograph of Tyrannobdella rex jaw showing large teeth on a single jaw. Image: Phillips, et al. 2010.

Two extraordinary new species discovered by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History — a toothy leech and a Louisiana batfish — have been named in the Top 10 New Species of 2011, a ranking compiled by the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) at Arizona State University. Every year taxonomists at the IISE review thousands of new species uncovered over the preceding calendar year.

One of the Top 10 is Tyrannobdella rex, which means “tyrant leech king,” a new species of blood sucker with ferociously large teeth lining a single jaw. It was discovered in Perú when the leech, which is less than 2 inches in length, was plucked from the nose of a girl who had recently been bathing in a river. T. rex was first brought to the attention of Mark Siddall, curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, when he received a specimen collected by Dr. Renzo Arauco-Brown, a Peruvian medical doctor. Siddall immediately recognized it as a new species. Part of the research for the paper, originally published in PLoS ONE, involved an expedition by two of Siddall’s students, Anna Phillips and Alejandro Oceguera-Figueroa, to gather new specimens for DNA analysis.

The other Top 10 selection, a new species of pancake batfish (Halieutichthys intermedius), was found in the Gulf of Mexico in waters encompassed by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Pancake batfishes are members of the anglerfish family Ogcocephalidae and are noted for their enormous heads and stout, arm-like fins they use to move across the ocean floor like a walking bat. The new research, partly the work of John Sparks, a curator in the Department of Ichthyology at the Museum, was first published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

The research on both species was partially funded by the National Science Foundation.

Other top species selected by IISE include a glow-in-the dark mushroom, an iron-oxide eating bacterium consuming the wreckage of the RMS Titanic, a jumping cockroach, a 6-foot-long fruit-eating monitor lizard, and a tiny antelope from West Africa. Details and photos of the Top 10 New Species of 2011 can be found at