Saturday, 4 April 2015

5 Weird Animals Described in 2014

From pink blind fish to mushroom shaped animals to flic-flac jumping spiders, here is a pick of the weirdest animals described in 2014.

1. Hoosier cavefish (Amblyopsis hoosieri)
A live specimen of A. hoosieri
A live specimen of A. hoosieri, measuring 6.07 cm (2.39 in) long.

The Hoosier cavefish (Amblyopsis hoosieri) is a subterranean blind fish from southern Indiana, U.S.

First discovered during a 2013 study on Amblyopsis spelaea, scientists found that the species was divided into two distinct evolutionary lineages: one north of the Ohio River, in Indiana, and one south of the river, in Kentucky.

The northern population was described as a new species in a 2014 paper published in the journal ZooKeys, making it the first new species of cavefish to have been discovered in the U.S. in the last 40 years.

Named after the Indiana Hoosiers, the species has an average length of 6 - 8 cm (2.4–3.1 in) with the head making up approximately one quarter of the total length. General coloration is pinkish-white, with red around the gills. Cool and gross fact; The anus is located behind its head.

2. Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides 
Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides specimens
Specimens of Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides

They might look like mushrooms but they aren't mushrooms at all! The creatures depicted on the image above, Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides, were described in 2014 from a collection of specimens that was gathered back in 1986!!

Dendrogramma are tiny ocean-dwelling organisms which have been placed in the animal kingdom. However they have not been definitively assigned to any existing phylum.

The Dendrogramma specimens were collected off the south-east coast of Australia during a scientific expedition in 1986. All specimens were collected at water depths of 400 to 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) on the continental slope near Tasmania using a sled that was dragged over the sea floor to collect bottom-dwelling animals. The researchers returned to the sample site in 1988 but they were unable to find any further specimens.

But why did it take almost 30 years to publish the discovery? Here's what Jean Just of the University of Copenhagen, who carried out the trawling in 1986, said: "Once you think you have something really extraordinary, it takes a long time to study, read, consult left, right and centre, and convince yourself that you’ve really stumbled across something special."

3. Araguaian boto (Inia araguaiaensis)
Inia araguaiaensis - Image credit: © Nicole Dutra.

The Araguaian river dolphin or Araguaian boto is a South American river dolphin that occurs in the lower and middle Araguaia River from Barra do Garças to the Santa Isabel rapids, and in several tributaries such as Vermelho, Peixe, Crixás-Açú and Água Limpa Rivers, and dos Tigres and Rico Lakes, all in the state of Goiás, and Lake Montaria in the state of Mato Grosso.

The recognition of I. araguaiaensis as a separate species was announced on January 22, 2014. The species was distinguished from other representatives of Inia on the basis of nuclear microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA data as well as differences in skull morphology, adults have a generally wider skull. It also differs from the Amazon and Bolivian river dolphins in the number of teeth per hemimandible (24–28 versus 25–29 and 31–35, respectively). The Araguaian boto is the first new river dolphin species to be described since 1918.

Adults are usually gray to pink in color and have a body length ranging from 1.53 to 2.6 m (5.0 to 8.5 ft). They have a dorsal ridge rather than a fin. Like other river dolphins, it has a prominent forehead and a much longer snout than those of most marine dolphins, as well as smaller eyes than marine dolphins.

4. Moroccan flic-flac spider (Cebrennus rechenbergi)
The gymnast like Cebrennus rechenbergi
 Moroccan flic-flac spider - Image credit: Ingo Rechenberg.

The Moroccan flic-flac spider is a nocturnal species of huntsman spider native to Morocco. It inhabits the sand dunes of the Erg Chebbi desert.

What's so intriguing about these critters is their ability to move by means of flic-flac jumps. When provoked or threatened, the spider can escape by doubling its normal walking speed using forward or backward flips similar to the acrobatic flic-flac movements used by gymnasts. No other spider is known to use this unique form of rolling locomotion.

It is as a medium-sized huntsman spider. Male bodies are 1.38 to 1.9 cm long whereas female bodies measure 1.9 to 1.95 mm long. Both sexes are similarly colored white with black scopulae on their ventral legs, and yellow coloring on their dorsal opisthosoma and femora.

Here's a video showing the Moroccan flic-flac spider in action:

5. The black-tailed antechinus (Antechinus arktos)
Black-tailed antechinus (Antechinus arktos) specimen
Black-tailed Antechinus
Image credit: Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum.

The black-tailed antechinus (Antechinus arktos), is a small carnivorous marsupial from Australia that was first described in 2014. The species has so far only been found in high-altitude, wet areas in the Springbrook National Park between northern New South Wales and the Gold Coast Hinterland.

What is so interesting about this little creature is its deadly breeding habits. Males actually die by having too much sex! They competitively mate, doing it again and again, sometimes for up to 12 - 14 consecutive hours.

They achieve this thanks to an escalation of stress hormones which allows them to mate again and again and again. But this extreme rush of stress hormones also causes the body tissues to "disintegrate", eventually leading to death. At least they die with a smile on their face!

- Chakrabarty P, Prejean JA, & Niemiller ML (2014). The Hoosier cavefish, a new and endangered species (Amblyopsidae, Amblyopsis) from the caves of southern Indiana. ZooKeys (412), 41-57 PMID: 24899861
- Just J, Kristensen RM, & Olesen J (2014). Dendrogramma, new genus, with two new non-bilaterian species from the marine bathyal of southeastern Australia (Animalia, Metazoa incertae sedis)--with similarities to some medusoids from the Precambrian Ediacara. PloS one, 9 (9) PMID: 25184248
- Hrbek T, da Silva VM, Dutra N, Gravena W, Martin AR, & Farias IP (2014). A new species of river dolphin from Brazil or: how little do we know our biodiversity. PloS one, 9 (1) PMID: 24465386
- Jäger P (2014). Cebrennus Simon, 1880 (Araneae: Sparassidae): a revisionary up-date with the description of four new species and an updated identification key for all species. Zootaxa, 3790, 319-56 PMID: 24869871
- "The Black-tailed Antechinus, Antechinus arktos sp. nov.: a new species of carnivorous marsupial from montane regions of the Tweed Volcano caldera, eastern Australia." Andrew M Baker, Thomas Y Mutton, Harry B Hines, Steve Van Dyck

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