NERS Review of the year Part 4 – New species

By Ed Yong | December 26, 2010 10:00 am

This is the fourth in a series of posts reviewing last year’s stories, according to theme and topic. This one is about this year’s new species, both living and extinct.

8 ) T.rex the nose-loving tyrant leech king

It’s the new T.rex – a giant leech found in the nose of a 9-year-old Peruvian girl. After a headache that lasted for two weeks and a strange “sliding sensation” in her nose, doctors removed a seven-centimetre leech from the girl’s nose. It was named Tyrannobdella rex, or “tyrant leech king”. Most leeches are found on the skin, Tyrannobdella is a member of the praobdellid group, which have a disturbing propensity for entering human orifices. They have specialised at feeding on mucous membranes, such as those found in the nose, eye, vagina, anus and urethra.

7) Sanajeh, the snake the ate baby dinosaurs

The prehistoric snake Sanajeh indicus was discovered in an extraordinary position – sitting in a dinosaur nest, coiled around three eggs and the body of a hatchling. Sanajeh took 26 years to reach the public eye. It was dug up in 1984, but it took the keen eye of Jeffrey Wilson to spot the distinctive backbone of a snake some 17 years later. It took a second jigsaw-like piece to complete the skeleton, and negotiations with the Indian Government, to unveil the full fossil. Two Sanajeh individuals have been found at the same site suggesting that this snake made a habit of feasting on would-be giants.

6) The shark-toothed dinosaur with a ‘fin’ on its back (Pocket Science)

Dinosaur bodies are often covered in odd spikes, plates and sails, but a newly discovered species called Concavenator had a uniquely bizarre structure – a hump on its back, supported by two spikes coming out of its hips. Francisco Ortega, who discovered the 6-metre-long predator thinks that the hump was a deposit of fat but it could have been used for communication or keeping cool. Concavenator’s arms also have a row of small bumps that would have acted as attachment points for feathers or, at the very least, simple rigid filaments.

5) Pakasuchus – the crocodile that’s trying to be a mammal

Pakasuchus was a bizarre crocodile by today’s standards. It’s name means “cat crocodile”, it was about the size of a house cat, and it had long legs, a slender body and a short skull. Rather than the consistently conical teeth of modern crocs, Pakasuchus had a variety of cutting and grinding teeth, much like a mammal. It’s dramatic proof that living crocodiles are just a thin branch of what was once an incredibly varied lineage, which came in many shapes, sizes and lifestyles.

4) Meet the squidworm: half-worm, half-squid… er, actually all-worm

The squidworm looks like a fusion animal, half-squid and half-worm. In fact, it’s all worm, a member of the group that includes familiar earthworms and leeches. It has ten long tentacles on its head – two for feeding and eight that probably help it to breathe or feel its way around. That such a bizarre (and slow-moving) animal has eluded discovery until now says a lot about the mysterious nature of the deep ocean.

3) Giant, fruit-eating monitor lizard discovered in the Philippines

A few years ago, a hunter in the Philippines brought a dead lizard to a biologist called Luke Welton, who realised that it was a new species. Varanus bitatawa, as it was named, is a monitor lizard and it’s very striking. It’s covered in intricate golden against a black back and it’s two metres long. Unlike almost all other monitors this one’s a vegetarian – it mostly eats fruits. And as is often the case, it may be new to science but the local tribespeople have known about it for centuries. They even eat it.

2) Behold Livyatan: the sperm whale that killed other whales

Around 12 million years ago, a monstrous predatory whale swam through the oceans around Peru. Livyatan was as large as a modern sperm whale, but far more formidable. Its mouth was full of huge teeth, the largest of which were a foot long, and its bite was probably the largest of any back-boned animal. It probably used these fearsome teeth to kill its own kind – the giant baleen whales. Somewhat embarrassingly, the animal had to be renamed after it turned out that its original moniker – Leviathan – has already been taken by a mammoth.

1) Balaur the stocky dragon – Velociraptor’s double-clawed Romanian cousin

Velociraptor’s “killing claw” was an iconic image from Jurassic Park but the infamous dino had a stronger Romanian cousin with two sickle-shaped claws on each foot. Unlike its agile cousin, the newly discovered Balaur bondoc (Romanian for “stocky dragon”) was built for strength, with the build of a kickboxer rather than a sprinter.During its day, Europe was a fragmented series of islands rather than a solid landmass. The strange body of Balaur is testament to the fact that islands have always been great places for natural selection to try out some wacky stuff.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Animals, Year in review
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