A SECRETIVE tree-living carnivore from the cloud forests of the Andes mountains heads this year's top 10 list of newly discovered species.

The olinguito, from Columbia and Ecuador, is the first new carnivorous mammal described in the western hemisphere in 35 years. A smaller cousin of the raccoon, weighing about 4.5 lbs, it is threatened by deforestation.

Other new species on the list include a ghostly looking skeleton shrimp from California, a super-camouflaged "leaf-tailed" gecko from Australia, and a bright orange soil fungus from Tunisia. The largest discovery is the 40ft Kaweesak's Dragon Tree, which somehow remained unnoticed until it was found in the Loei and Lop Buri mountain regions of Thailand.

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At the other end of the scale is the "clean room" microbe Tersicoccus phoenicis, from the US and French Guiana, which was found to have infected spoacecraft assembly rooms and could contaminate other planets..

The list of 10 was chosen by a committee of experts from around 18,000 new species named in the past year. It was released to coincide with the birthday on May 23 of the 18th century Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who is considered the father of modern taxonomy.