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Ten remarkable new marine species from 2017


Ten remarkable new marine species from 2017

Release date: March 19th 2018



The Mariana snailfish

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  • Mackenzie Gerringer ( ), co-author of the new species
  • Thom Linley ( ), co-author of the new species


Additional photo(s) & video available at:


Pseudoliparis swirei Gerringer & Linley, 2017


Meet the deepest fish in the ocean, a new species named the Mariana snailfish by an international team of researchers that discovered it. The Mariana snailfish (Pseudoliparis swirei Gerringer & Linley, 2017) thrives at depths of up to about 8,000 m along the Mariana Trench near Guam. “This is the deepest fish that’s been collected from the ocean floor, and we’re very excited to have an official name,” said lead author Mackenzie Gerringer, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories. “They don’t look very robust or strong for living in such an extreme environment, but they are extremely successful.”

Snailfish are found at many different depths in marine waters around the world. In deep water, they cluster together in groups and feed on tiny crustaceans and shrimp using suction from their mouths to gulp prey. Little is known about how these fish can live under intense water pressure; the pressure at those depths is similar to an elephant standing on your thumb. This new species appears to dominate parts of the Mariana Trench, the deepest stretch of ocean in the world that is located in the western Pacific Ocean. During research trips in 2014 and 2017, scientists collected 37 specimens of the new species from depths of about 6,900 to 8,000 m. DNA analysis and 3-D scanning to analyse skeletal and tissue structures helped researchers determine they had found a new species.

Since then, a research team from Japan has recorded footage of the fish swimming at depths of 8,178 m, the deepest sighting so far.

Pseudoliparis swirei is named for an officer on the HMS Challenger, the 1870s British expedition that discovered numerous new species and led to the initial discovery of the trench. Challenger officer Herbert Swire, a navigational sub-lieutenant, published journals from the journey. "We named this fish after him in acknowledgment of the crews that serve on oceanographic research vessels," Gerringer says. "It takes a lot of people to keep a ship running and we wanted to sincerely thank them."

Further information



The Harry Potter ‘hero’ crab

Harryplax severus Mendoza & Ng, 2017


While not much is known about the animals living around coral reefs, ex-Marine turned researcher Harry Conley would often take to the island of Guam, western Pacific Ocean, and dig deep into the rubble to find fascinating critters as if by magic learnt at Hogwarts. Almost 20 years after his discoveries and his death, a new species and genus of crab, Harryplax severus was described in his honour.

Having dug as deep as 30 m into Guam’s coral reef rubble, Harry Conley collected many specimens which stayed in his personal collection until the early 2000’s when Dr. Gustav Paulay, currently affiliated with the University of Florida, handed the specimens to the second author of the present study, Dr. Peter Ng, National University of Singapore, which resulted in many discoveries and publications. Among the lot, however, were two unusual specimens which were not studied until much later. Only recently did Dr. Peter Ng and his colleague at the National University of Singapore and lead author of the paper, Dr. Jose Christopher E. Mendoza, discover that they represent not only a new species, but also a new genus.

Having chosen the name Harryplax for the new genus, the two authors pay tribute to the crab’s original collector Harry Conley, who they describe as a “soft-spoken ex-Marine with a steely determination and a heart of gold,” and whose endeavours “have substantially advanced the cause of marine science”. The name is also meant to allude to the main protagonist in J. K. Rowling’s famous fantasy novel series, whose magical abilities the scientists liken to Conley’s knack for finding rare or new species. Of the two authors, Dr. Mendoza is the self-confessed ‘Potterhead’, who was not about to pass up the chance of naming a new crab after his favourite fictional characters. In his turn, Dr. Ng, who knew Harry Conley personally, was quite amused and happy to agree.

The crab’s species name, severus, is inspired by another ‘Harry Potter’ character – Professor Severus Snape, who despite being a central character in the series, keeps his background and agenda mysterious until the very end, when he reveals a key secret. Showing his real identity, the character, to the authors, is “just like the present new species which has eluded discovery until now, nearly 20 years after it was first collected”.

The new species is a tiny crab measuring less than a centimeter in both length and width and can be found deep in coral rubble or under subtidal rocks, perhaps also in cavities. To survive in the dark depths, the species has evolved with reduced eyes, well developed antennae, and long, slender legs. For the time being it is known only from the island of Guam.

Further information:



Bob Marley's intertidal spider

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  • Barbara Baehr ( ), co-author of the new species

Desis bobmarleyi Baehr, Raven & Harms, 2017


At 2am on the 11th of January 2009, the sea along the coastline of Australia's "Sunshine State" of Queensland receded to such an extent that it exposed a population of water-adapted spiders. The observant researchers, who would later describe these spiders as a species new to science, were quick to associate their emergence with reggae legend Bob Marley and his song "High Tide or Low Tide".

Unlike the spiders which people are familiar with, the intertidal species, whose representative is Bob Marley's namesake, are truly marine. They have adapted to underwater life by hiding in barnacle shells, corals or kelp holdfast during high tide. To breathe, they build air chambers from silk. Once the tide recedes though, they are out and about hunting small invertebrates that roam the surfaces of the nearby rocks, corals and plants.

The new species, listed under the scientific name of Desis bobmarleyi, is described based on male and female specimens spotted and collected from brain coral on that night in January. Both sexes are characterised by predominantly red-brown colours, while their legs are orange-brown and covered with a dense layer of long, thin and dark grey hair-like structures. The females appear to be larger with the studied specimen measuring nearly 9 mm, whereas the male was about 6 mm long.

While the exact distribution range of the newly described species remains unknown, it is currently recorded from the intertidal zones of the Great Barrier Reef on the north-eastern coast of Queensland.

"The song 'High Tide or Low Tide' promotes love and friendship through all struggles of life," explain the authors for their curious choice of a name. "It is his music that aided a field trip to Port Douglas in coastal Queensland, Australia, to collect spiders with a highly unique biology."

Apart from reporting their research, the scientists use their paper to pay tribute to a German naturalist from the late 19th century Amalie Dietrich, as well as the famous Jamaican singer and songwriter. The authors see both admirable figures, even if representative of very different fields, as examples of "the adventurous and resilient at heart" human nature in pursuit of freedom and independence.

Further information:



The invasive 'spiderman' worm-snail

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  • Rudiger Bieler ( ), co-author of the new species


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Thylacodes vandyensis Bieler, Rawlings & Collins, 2017


A strange new marine worm-snail species with an interesting story. The species is described from an artificial reef (a deliberately scuttled shipwreck) off Florida - a new species, with interesting morphology and biology (a sessile gastropod that looks like a tube worm), certainly not native to the type locality, with high invasive potential, and presenting a potential threat to the local coral reefs.

Scientists have identified this new species of worm-snail named Thylacodes vandyensis after the General Hoyt S. Vandenburg, a sunken, retired naval ship where tens of thousands of the snails now live. If they spread elsewhere, the worm-snails could damage the region’s living coral.

The Vandy, as divers have nicknamed it, is among a number of large, retired ships sunk in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to provide new homes for ocean creatures and alternative diving spots.

Researchers like Rüdiger Bieler, a curator at the Field Museum in Chicago and the lead author of the paper, monitor these artificial reefs to see what is settling in. In 2014, during two 20-minute dives, he and his colleagues found three of these worm-snails. Now there are thousands.

Further information
  • Bieler, R.; Granados-Cifuentes, C.; Rawlings, T.A.; Sierwald, P.; Collins, T.M. (2017). Non-native molluscan colonizers on deliberately placed shipwrecks in the Florida Keys, with description of a new species of potentially invasive worm-snail (Gastropoda: Vermetidae). PeerJ 5:e3158 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.3158
  • Inspired a cartoon hero in the “Sherman's Lagoon" series (a popular marine-themed newspaper cartoon strip in the US).



The Californian box jelly

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Carybdea confusa Straehler-Pohl, Matsumoto & Acevedo, 2017


Carybdea confusa is a species of box jellyfish. The authors note that the sting of this species is "not severe".

A lot of confusion (over the last 90 years) surrounds the naming of the Californian carybdeid population, sighted near La Jolla and Santa Barbara, since its first description by Stiasny in 1922. The specimens were first identified as Carybdea rastonii and later as Carybdea marsupialis but the identification was doubted by several scientists. To clear up the confusion, specimens of the Californian population were compared to specimens of all known carybdeid species. This comparison revealed that the Californian population represents an undescribed carybdeid species, named Carybdea confusa.

C. confusa lives in the kelp forests of the cold temperate North Eastern Pacific along the Californian coast.

Further information:
  • Straehler-Pohl, I., Matsumoto, G.I. & Acevedo, M.J. (2017). Recognition of the Californian cubozoan population as a new species Carybdea confusa n. sp. (Cnidaria, Cubozoa, Carybdeida). Plankton & Benthos Research 12(2): 129–138. https://doi.org/10.3800/pbr.12.129




Palau president's colonial anemone

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  • James Reimer ( ), one of the authors of the description of the new species.


Additional photo(s) available at:

Antipathozoanthus remengesaui Kise, Fujii, Masucci, Biondi & Reimer, 2017


Zoantharians, or colonial anemones, include species popular in the pet trade, but this species is much more cryptic, living on coral reefs in marine caves, cracks, or at depths below most recreational SCUBA diving (>20 m). Coral reefs, which are widely threatened by rising temperatures from global warming, are generally believed to harbour very high numbers of species, including yet many undescribed or unknown species.

This new species of zoantharian was discovered by researchers from the University of the Ryukyus and Kagoshima University, Japan, and the Palau International Coral Reef Center. Despite not being previously known, this species was found widely across the Indo-Pacific; in the Red Sea, the Maldives, Palau, and southern Japan.

Antipathozoanthus remengesaui is named after the current president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau.

"Much of our work was based in Palau", said senior author Dr. James Reimer, "and we wished to acknowledge the fantastic support we have received from the nation. Palau is considered at the forefront of marine conservation, and much of this is thanks to President Remengesau's vision."

While the new discoveries shed more light on our understanding of coral reef biodiversity, this work is far from done. In fact, the researchers themselves estimate they still have up to ten more zoantharian species to describe from the waters of Palau and Okinawa.

"Marine diversity of coral reefs is amazing, with new surprises all the time", said Kise, "and biodiversity scientists still have a lot more work to do."

Further information:




The necklace foraminiferan

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  • Andrew Gooday ( ) at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, first author of the description of the new species


Additional photo(s) available at:

Aschemonella monilis Gooday & Holzmann, 2017


Aschemonella monilis is a kind of xenophyophore. These are giant deep-sea protozoans that belong to a group called the foraminifera. Most foraminifera are less than a millimetre in size but xenophyophores can grow to 10 cm or even larger, making them some of the largest single-celled organisms on the planet.

Aschemonella monilis lives at a depth of more than 4 km in the eastern Pacific Ocean and, like many deep-sea foraminifera, it constructs a ‘test’ or shell made of foreign particles that it picks up off the seafloor.

These shells consist of strings of spherical chambers, up to 8 cm in length and the species name comes from the Latin word for necklace and refers to the appearance of the string of chambers that make up the shell.

Many of the specimens were attached to polymetallic nodules, which are abundant on the seafloor in this region. They are clearly visible in photographic images of the seafloor, which means that they are part of the megafauna.

In fact, they are the dominant megafaunal organisms in this part of the Pacific, so it is quite surprising that they were first recognised only a few years ago and were described scientifically only in 2017. Aschemonella monilis was the most abundant organism visible in imagery covering an area of 14,206 m2 of seafloor. A total of 21,992 individuals of this xenophyophore were identified, making it the most abundant megafaunal organism, either protistan or metazoan, seen in the surveyed area.

Further information:
  • Gooday, A.J.; Holzmann, M.; Caulle, C.; Goineau, A.; Jones, D.O.B.; Kamenskaya, O.; Simonlledó, E.; Weber, A. A.; Pawlowski, J. (2017). New species of the xenophyophore genus Aschemonella (Rhizaria: Foraminifera) from areas of the abyssal eastern Pacific licensed for polymetallic nodule exploration. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. https://doi.org/10.1093/zoolinnean/zlx052



The fiery-red dragon Epimeria

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  • Cedric d'Udekem d'Acoz ( ), first author of the description of the new species.


Additional photo(s) available at:

Epimeria pyrodrakon d'Udekem d'Acoz & Verheye, 2017


Amphipods (small crustaceans) in the genus Epimeria are considered as one of the most iconic taxa of the Southern Ocean, where it is unusually abundant and diverse. The new species are very diverse and spectacular. Their body is often adorned with large spikes, reminiscent of mythological dragons. Some have vibrant colourations. This species is just one of 27 new Antarctic Epimeria species, almost doubling the number in the group, which are among the morphologically most spectacular amphipod species.

It was unexpected to find so many new species within a group that was supposed to be already well known. “This shows that we still have so much to learn about Antarctica and its biodiversity”, says author Cédric d'Udekem d'Acoz. “The continent may look like a biological desert on land, but the surrounding sea is full of unknown fauna.”

The species is named Epimeria pyrodrakon from a combination of two Greek words meaning, 'flame-coloured, yellowish red' and 'dragon'. The name alludes to the Great Red Dragon of the Book of Revelation, because its highly intricate ornamentation is not unlike that of a dragon and its colour accurately matches with the description given: “Then another sign appeared in heaven: There was a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems”.

These beautiful amphipod crustaceans are found at the Tip of Antarctic Peninsula, on the eastern shelf of the Weddell Sea, and the Princess Ragnhild Coast at depths between 170–490 m. The species is believed to be an opportunistic feeder or an opportunistic predator.

Further information:
  • d'Udekem d'Acoz, C.; Verheye, M. L. (2017). Epimeria of the Southern Ocean with notes on their relatives (Crustacea, Amphipoda, Eusiroidea). European Journal of Taxonomy. 359: 1-553. https://doi.org/10.5852/ejt.2017.359 




The hoodwinker sunfish

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  • Marianne Nyegaard ( ), first author of the description of the new species.


Additional photo(s) & video available at:

Mola tecta Nyegaard, Sawai, Gemmell, Gillum, Loneragan, Yamanoue & Stewart, 2017


It's not every day that someone discovers a new species of 8-foot-long (2.4 meters) fish, but new research reveals that an unknown species of huge, pancake-shaped sunfish has been hiding out in the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere. The fish, named Mola tecta (which is Latin for 'hidden'), is also known as the 'hoodwinker' sunfish because scientists were unaware of its existence despite decades of research on these strange animals.

Sunfish are enormous: As the world's largest bony fish, they can weigh up to about 1,000 kilograms. They have extremely round bodies with strange, foreshortened ruffles on their back ends instead of true tails. (This body part is called a 'clavus', which is Latin for 'rudder', Nyegaard said.)

The precise number of sunfish species and their relationships to one another have long been difficult to pin down, in part because of the difficulties in transporting and storing a fish that can grow to be more than 8 feet long. Genetic testing has helped to clarify; in fact, the researchers only discovered Mola tecta because a 2009 genetic study on sunfish tissue by Japanese researchers revealed gene sequences that didn't match those of any known species.

Nyegaard ran across these mystery genes while analysing tissue samples from sunfish that were accidentally hooked (and then thrown back) by commercial fishers. "I still didn't know what the fish looked like, as I only received tiny skin samples from the fisheries observers," she said. "But now that I knew where the sample had come from, the hunt was on."

Fortunately, a break came when three sunfish stranded themselves on a beach in Christchurch, New Zealand. Nyegaard couldn't get to New Zealand from Perth, Australia, where she works at Murdoch University, in time to sample the fish, but a "kind local" went out and collected tissue for her, she said. Just 10 days later, another specimen washed ashore at the same beach. This time, she hopped on a plane, arriving just before dark.

"I got out and just stood there, under the stars with the ocean rolling in and the huge fish just lying there on the beach — a stranded, lost behemoth, both sad- and lonely-looking but also beautiful in the weirdest way, like a precious gift from the sea, a long-kept secret," she said.

She knew she had her mystery fish. The new species has a distinctive stripe of skin dividing its body from its clavus. It also has fewer bony formations called ossicles on its clavus than other sunfish species, Nyegaard said, and it has a rounded, rather than protruding, snout.

Nyegaard and her colleagues shored up their analysis with studies of old museum specimens as well as more fishery bycatch. M. tecta lives in the waters around southeastern Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and perhaps Chile, they found. Because these sunfish are so elusive, little is known about whether they are in danger of extinction, Nyegaard said. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has designated one other sunfish species, Mola mola, as "vulnerable".

Likely the biggest threats to the fish are climate change and warming oceans, Nyegaard said. Like all marine wildlife, she added, sunfish are threatened by plastic pollution in the oceans. Reducing plastic use, she said, could be one way to ensure these huge fishy pancakes keep swimming.

Further information



The Solomon Islands pyramidellid snail

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  • Philippe Bouchet ( ), Molluscan taxonomic expert

Eurathea solomonensis Peñas & Rolán, 2017


This gastropod species, here given the common name of the Solomon Islands pyramidellid snail, is actually a rather "anonymous" species of gastropod, measuring a mere 2.25 mm. However, beyond this anonymous façade lies a fascinating story. The two co-authors of the publications are both "citizen scientists", and the publication where the new species is named altogether contains 212 new species! Eurathea solomonensis was selected for the Top Ten from among this amazing diversity because the type locality is a single dredge haul at a depth of 98-200 meters taken off the island of Malaita in the Solomon Islands, which contained an astonishing 110 new species of pyramidellid gastropods (53 described in a previous monograph and 57 in the present one). This illustrates the amazing diversity still to be found in our oceans, especially in deep water in tropical seas, one of the last frontiers in biodiversity exploration. This is precisely the target of the Tropical Deep-Sea Benthos programme, during which the Solomon Islands were surveyed during three research cruises conducted on board Nouméa-based Research Vessel Alis between 2001 and 2007, that generated literally thousands of new species. Anselmo Peñas had a business in industrial weighing and dosing machinery, and Emilio Rolán was a medical doctor; both are now retired and actively engaged in gastropod systematics. As many as 57% of the new species of marine molluscs described since 2000 have been described by citizen scientists, highlighting their key role in biodiversity description, just like citizen scientists are responsible for the discovery and description of many new beetles or plants.

Like all other pyramidellids, it is assumed that Eurathea solomonensis is an ectoparasite on other benthic invertebrates, probably a polychaete (worm) or another mollusc (snail or bivalve).

Further information