The unusual color palate of the psychedelic frogfish (Histiophyrne psychedelica) mimics several species of hard coral, which typically serve as hiding places for the gelatinous fish. Each fish's pattern is as unique as a human fingerprint. In addition, scientists think the fleshy tissue around the fish's face may act like a cat's whiskers, helping the frogfish locate prey or other objects in the dark. (Watch video of the psychedelic frogfish "bouncing" along the seafloor.)
The odd frogfish, found in shallow waters off Indonesia, is one of the top ten new species described in 2009, as chosen by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University (ASU) and an international committee of taxonomists. The annual list, released this week, helps show just how little we know of our own planet's diversity, said Quentin Wheeler, director of the ASU institute. (See pictures of the species on last year's list.)
"We're at about 1.9 million [identified] species right now," Wheeler said. "Conservative estimates would say there are 10 to 12 million different species of plants and animals—and, of course, if we want to include microbes, that's a whole different ball game."
The announcement of the top ten new species list is timed each year to celebrate the May 23 birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, who fathered the scientific system of plant and animal names 252 years ago. (Read about a proposal to assign known species their own DNA bar codes.)
Along with this year's list, the ASU group issued a State of Observed Species Report, which announced that 18,225 new plants, animals, microbes, algae, and fungi were found in 2008, the most recent year for which data are complete.