Arizona State University publishes a list of the most beautiful and strange animals discovered in 2011, including the Caribbean medusa and blue tarantula, which were described in part by Brazilian scientists

List of top 10 new species includes Brazilian discoveries

June 27, 2012

By Fábio de Castro

Agência FAPESP – A tarantula discovered in Brazil and a Caribbean jellyfish, described in part by Brazilian scientists, were among the animals on the “Top 10 New Species” list for 2011, released by Arizona State University in the United States.

The list is produced annually by the ASU International Institute for Species Exploration, which selects ten most beautiful or strange species from among those described in the previous year. The list for 2011 was released on May 24th.

Second on the list was the Tamoya ohboya box jellyfish, which was described by researchers at the Universidade de São Paulo Biosciences Institute (IB/USP), among others, as part of the BIOTA-FAPESP Program. Tenth on the list was the Pterinopelma sazimai tarantula spider, which was described by scientists at the Butantan Institute.

The Tamoya ohboya box jellyfish was described in the journal Zootaxa by a team that included researchers from the Smithsonian Institute and the University of Kansas—both in the United States—and Brazilian researchers André Morandini and Antonio Marques from the IB-USP Zoology Department. Morandini coordinates a research project funded by FAPESP through its Regular Research Support program.

According to Marques, when the group from the United States collected some of the jellyfish from the Dutch colony of Bonaire in the southern Caribbean, they perceived its similarity to the species Tamoya haplonema, which is found along the Brazilian coastline and was first identified in the 19th century. To confirm that they had collected an already-known species, the researchers contacted the two USP scientists who collected specimens of the Brazilian jellyfish in Santa Catarina.

“We did the comparative analysis direct from the morphology, the morphometrics and the DNA. Thanks to this comparison, we concluded that the jellyfish from Bonaire should be scientifically described as a new species,” Marques told the Agência FAPESP.

The bix jellyfish is larger than other jellyfish and is one of the planet’s most poisonous animals. Because of its extraordinary beauty, the scientists decided not to name the new species immediately; instead, they announced a contest in which people from many countries were invited to suggest names.

“We used this discovery as an opportunity to hold a campaign to bring taxonomy closer to the public. We posted photos of the animal on the Internet and held a contest to call people’s attention to the process of new species’ discovery. It’s an example of what we call ‘people’s science,’ where the public actively participates in a discovery,” explained Marques.

The name “ohboya” was chosen by an elementary school teacher in the United States, alluding to the expression “oh, boy!,” an expression of surprise at the animal’s beauty.

Blue spider

The Pterinopelma sazimai tarantula was given the name of the scientist who collected its first specimen, retired zoology professor Ivan Sazima, from the Universidade Estadual de Campinas Institute of Biology (IB-Unicamp).

According to Sazima, the spider he found was female and was not identified at the time because the systematics of the group is based on the morphology of the males.  “I remember that I found the spider on the Serra do Cipó in Minas Gerais on top of a rock in the typically rocky fields of the Chapada do Espinhaço in December of 1971. After finishing my field work, I took the live spider to Sylvia Lucas, a researcher at the Butantan,” he said.

Sazima said that, although the specimen was female, Lucas could tell that it was a previously undescribed species. The spider was kept alive for over ten years at the Butantan Institute but died during one of its exoskeleton shedding phases before it could be described.

Pterinopelma sazimai was not described until 2011, in the journal Zootaxa, by Instituto Butantan researchers Rogério Bertani, Roberto Nagahama and Caroline Fukushima. Bertani said that after the specimen collected by Sazima died, scientists from the Butantan Institute set out in search of other specimens. One new blue spider was by IB-USP professor Pedro Gnaspini.

Between 2004 and 2009, Bertani coordinated a research project on tarantulas with FAPESP funding through its Regular Research Support program. During the project, he and his team traveled to many parts of Minas Gerais searching for new specimens.

“We were successful in 2008, when we found an adult female and some young. Later we learned that a botany team had collected some live animals. One of them wasn’t the characteristic blue color, but we concluded that it must be the male of the species. This more complete material made it possible to compose the scientific description of the species and publish in 2011,” said Bertani.

The researchers had great difficulty in finding specimens for study—and encountered many bureaucratic barriers—but Bertani pointed out that Pterinopelma sazimai can be easily found for sale on the Internet.

“It’s very sad to know that a spider with so few specimens in scientific collections is being sold overseas. This illegal commerce is probably just motivated by the species’ rare beauty. I wouldn’t call it bio-piracy, but rather exotic pet trade,” he said.

According to Bertani, even though they are sold abroad, the animal is difficult to find because it lives in a very specific and extremely inhospitable environment. “All the specimens were found in high-altitude rocky areas with low, poor vegetation, sandy rocky soil, no water throughout much of the year and extreme temperature variations. As it’s impossible to dig burrows in this type of soil, they usually live below the rocks in very small groups,” he said.

Bertani’s group is currently concluding the description of a new species of tarantula found in the same type of environment. The article, along with its scientific description, is expected to be published in an upcoming issue of Zootaxa.

For more information: http://species.asu.edu/Top10