Monday, July 4, 2011

Inflatable Shark Among 300 New Species Discovered in Philippines

A treasure trove of hundreds of new species may have been discovered in the Philippines, including a bizarre sea star that feeds exclusively on sunken driftwood and a deep-sea, shrimp-eating shark that swells up to scare off other predators.

Scientists braved leeches and a host of venomous creatures from the mountains to the sea to uncover more than 300 species that are likely new to science. These findings include dozens of new insects and spiders, more than 50 colorful new sea slugs and a number of deep-sea armored corals "which protect themselves against predatory nibbles from fish by growing large, spiky plates," said researcher Terrence Gosliner, dean of science and research collections at the California Academy of Sciences and leader of the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition.

Researchers at the California Academy of Sciences and their colleagues from the University of the Philippines and the National Museum of the Philippines conducted a 42-day expedition this past spring to survey Luzon Island, the largest island in the Philippine archipelago, as well as its surrounding waters.

Their novel discoveries include a cicada that makes a distinctive "laughing" call, a crab whose pincers are lined with needlelike teeth, and a wormlike pipefish that hides among colonies of soft coral. In addition, they discovered a possible new species of swell shark — a shark that pumps water into its stomach to puff up — which unlike its relatives possesses a very distinctive camouflaged color pattern.

A number of species live in places rarely, if ever, visited by people, such as a primitive plant called a spikemoss from the perilously steep upper slopes of Mount Isarog and a snake eel from the bottom of the ocean. Many others have avoided detection in the past because of their diminutive size, such as goblin spiders and barnacles that all measure just a few millimeters long.

"One of the likely new urchins is very small — it's called a pea urchin, and yes, it's about the size of a pea," Gosliner said.

All these new findings help support the idea that the Philippines "is one of the hottest of the hotspots for diverse and threatened life on Earth," Gosliner said.

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