GLOBAL: Sea horse and insect among top 10 new species

A pea-sized seahorse, caffeine-free coffee and bacteria that live in hairspray are among the top 10 new species described in 2008, according to the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. The institute and an international committee of taxonomists announce a top 10 each year on 23 May to commemorate the 1709 birth of Carolus Linnaeus, who initiated the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications.

The event aims to raise awareness of biodiversity, the field of taxonomy, and the importance of natural history museums and botanical gardens. The taxonomists also published an SOS - State of Observed Species - report card on human knowledge of Earth's species. They reported that 18,516 species new to science were discovered and described in 2007.

The top 10 includes Hippocampus satomiae, a seahorse with a standard length of 13.8 millimetres and an approximate height of 11.5 millimetres, which was found near Derawan Island off Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Also on the top 10 list are caffeine-free coffee from Cameroon - Coffea charrieriana - and the Barbados Threadsnake, Leptotyphlops carlae, which measures 104 millimetres and is believed to be the world's smallest snake.

Microbacterium hatanonis, a bacterium discovered in hairspray by Japanese scientists made the list, as did Tahina spectablilis, a palm species that consists of fewer than 100 individuals in a small area of northwestern Madagascar.

The plant flowers itself to death, producing a huge, spectacular terminal inflorescence with countless flowers. After fruiting, it dies and collapses.

Institute director Quentin Wheeler said charting the species of the world and their unique attributes were essential parts of understanding the history of life. "It is in our own self-interest as we face the challenges of living on a rapidly changing planet."

Wheeler, who is also vice-president of Arizona State University, said new tools would vastly accelerate the rate at which we discovered and described species: "Most people do not realise just how incomplete our knowledge of Earth's species is or the steady rate at which taxonomists are exploring that diversity. We are surrounded by such an exuberance of species diversity that we too often take it for granted."

Photos and other information on the top 10 and the SOS report are online at