BATON ROUGE – The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of taxonomists from around the world announced their picks for the top 10 new species described in 2010. Among their top picks is Halieutichthys intermedius, a pancake batfish recently discovered by Prosanta Chakrabarty, curator of fishes at LSU's Museum of Natural Science, and colleagues.
Halieutichthys intermedius, more commonly referred to as the Louisiana pancake batfish, gained some notoriety during the spring and summer of 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected their primary habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the Top 10 write up, the batfish was considered one of the top discoveries first because of its precarious existence due to the fact that its entire habitat was covered in oil from the spill, and second, because it is quite a unique-looking fish.
"This species is one of only 70 or so of the 1,500 Gulf of Mexico species that is endemic (i.e., only found in the region). All the other species are found in the open Atlantic, Caribbean or other areas," said Chakrabarty. "Because of their limited distribution, endemics like this new species are of special concern. In a way, this new batfish has become the poster child for the aquatic life threatened by the oil spill. It reminded me both of how little we knew about the biota in the Gulf and also about how the spill can impact some species more than others."
Chakrabarty, who also serves as assistant professor of biological sciences, discovered the new species after studying samples of batfish stored in alcohol-filled jars. It wasn't long before he and Taiwanese colleague Hsuan-ching "Hans" Ho, and American Museum of Natural History Curator John Sparks, noticed consistent differences among the specimens. What had long been considered one widespread variable in the species was actually three completely unique species.
Soon after, Chakrabarty secured passage on a research vessel and headed out to the open Gulf and was able to collect, then describe, new specimens of what turned out to be two new species of batfish.
The May 23 announcement coincided with the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who was responsible for the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications. Also on this year's top 10 new species list are a leech with enormous teeth, an iron-oxide consuming bacterium discovered on a rusticle from the RMS Titanic and fungi that emit bright yellowish-green light from their gel-coated stems. The top 10 new species also include a jumping cockroach, a six-foot long fruit-eating lizard and a duiker first encountered at a bushmeat market in Africa. Rounding out this year's top 10 are a cricket that pollinates a rare orchid, a mushroom that fruits underwater, and an orb-weaving spider named for Darwin that builds webs large enough to span rivers and lakes.