The 'Chicken from Hell' and other bizarre new species discovered in 2015

The Chicken from Hell was not a creature you'd want to meet in a dark alley.

Though just two feet long, this feathered, bird-like dinosaur had big claws, razor-sharp teeth, and in all likelihood a very nasty disposition.

Paleontologists discovered the Chicken from Hell -- also known by its scientific name, Anzu wyliei -- just this year. 

New Discoveries

Researchers describe 'new' species all the time.  Sometimes these are living creatures that have escaped detection until recently.  For instance, it's been estimated that 60-70 percent of all insect species may be undescribed scientifically, particularly as a result of many unknown species living in the canopy of tropical rainforests.

In other instances -- such as the Chicken from Hell -- they're extinct beasts that have only recently been discovered, typically from fossils.

Believe it or not, there's a group of scientists that come up with a "Top Ten" list of newly discovered species each year.  In addition to the dino-hell-chicken, here are a few of the other top 10 new species for 2015:

Cartwheeling Spider

This creature, which lives in sand dunes of the Moroccan Desert of Africa, has a unique way of escaping from predators: it rolls into a ball and cartwheels away, sort of like an arachnid snowball.

The X-Phylum

Talk about a discovery.  This strange beast, which was found in the sea near Victoria, Australia, looks rather like a mushroom.  But it's so bizarre that scientists think it might actually represent an entirely new Phylum of animal.  

Crikey, that's like discovering the first Chordate -- the group that includes all vertebrates, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.  Or the first Mollusk -- which includes all clams, snails, octopus, squids, and their allies.

Parasitic Coral Plant

This peculiar plant doesn't look like a plant at all -- and it certainly doesn't live like one.

Rather than producing its food via photosynthesis, as other self-respecting plants do, this organism is a dedicated parasite, sucking the life-blood from the roots of its host plant.

For that reason it's not even green -- it doesn't have chlorophyll. 

This newly-described species lives in the Philippines, but its relatives are found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world.  In tropical Australia, one of its relatives is colloquially called the "Penis Fungus" -- but of course it's not a fungus and any resemblance to a penis is entirely unintentional.

Lessons for Us

Such remarkable discoveries remind us that there's still an enormous amount about life on Earth that we do not yet know. 

That much of the planet's biodiversity could vanish before we even have a chance to discover it or learn it secrets is surely one of our greatest tragedies -- a tragedy that might be largely avoided if we truly get serious about conserving nature.