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Archive for the ‘New species’ Category

olinguito

As long-time readers of this blog know, I am a nerd when it comes to the order Carnivora, and today was a very good day for all carnivoran nerds:  the discovery of a new species was announced!

It is a procyonid, a member of the “raccoon family.”  In English, this is the best way to describe the family. The northern raccoon is the best known species in the family, but the truth is there are many other species. In the US, we actually have three species of procyonid: the aforementioned northern raccoon, the white-nosed coati, and the ringtail.

Into Central and South America, there are more species. In South America, there are three additional species of coati and the crab-eating raccoon, which also ranges up into Panama and Costa Rica. And there is another species of ring-tail called the cacomistle.

Those are just the big ones. The raccoon family also includes some smaller ones that live entirely in trees. You may have never heard of them, and they look so strange that the early naturalists had a hard time describing exactly what they were– and as we’ll see, they still do today.

Probably the best known of these “weird ones” is the kinkajou The only reason you might have heard of the kinkajou is that Paris Hilton had pet one that bit her. It is almost impossible to find a source in the popular press that correctly identifies what a kinkajou is. Almost every source says it’s some kind of monkey.

As carnivorans go, it is a very primate-like one, and this similarity further exacerbated with the kinkajou’s prehensile tail. The only other carnivoran with a prehensile tail is the binturong, a type of civet, which is native to Southeast Asia. Kinkajous live high up in the trees in Central and South American forests and live almost exclusively on fruit, which also makes them seem more like monkeys.

But among the lesser known species of procyonid that look a lot like kinkajous without prehensile tails. These are the olingos, and until today, there were only five species. At one time, it was believe that olingos were just less-derived cousins of the kinkajou, but it turns out that the animals aren’t closely related at all. Though all the olingos and the kinkajou are procyonids, genetic evidence shows kinkajous are a very primitive lineage of the family, and the olingos share a common ancestor with coatis. Olingos likely evolved a similar morphology to kinkajous through what is called parallel evolution is when two species split from a common ancestor but then evolve morphological or behavioral similarities due to being adapted to similar niches. The trenchant heel dentition that bush dogs share with African wild dogs and dholes is a good example of parallel evolution. The physical similarity between thylacines and wolves is convergent evolution,  which when two quite unrelated species evolve similarities in morphology and behavior. The kinkajou’s prehensile tail, which shares with several species of New World monkey, is also an example of convergent evolution

Olingos are not well-studied. After all, it’s pretty hard to study animals that live high up in the canopies of trees and only come out at night.

So it was not surprising to me that a new species of olingo was finally documented this week.

This discovery actually didn’t happen in Ecuador or Colombia’s cloud forests, where these unusual olingos are native. Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian Musem of Natural History, happened upon some museum specimens at Chicago’s Field Museum in 2003. Helgen was interested in exploring olingo taxonomy, and he wanted to examine different specimens to get an idea if scientists have missed any morphological distinctiveness in their specimens. Olingo taxonomy is a mess. No one knows how many species there actually are.

It took ten years and the collection of DNA samples from a variety different olingo specimens, but now this new species of olingo has been identified. One of the most interesting parts of the story is that the only olingo sample with GenBank is of a weird individual that was imported to the US through a Colombian dealer. This olingo was smaller and would not mate with any of the other captive olingos with which it was caged, which is probably why its DNA was sent to GenBank. This animal’s name was Ringerl, and she was kept at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. for a short time (Roland Kays, who was part of this study and is best-known on this blog for being part of the study that debunked the red wolf taxonomic status, tells her story here.)

These animals share only 90 percent of their DNA with other olingos, the species with which it was thought to belong.

This new species is called the olinguito, which has the Spanish diminutive suffix. It’s a somewhat smaller than the other olingos. Indeed, it is now the smallest species of procyonid.

Museum specimens hide a lot of stories.

We just missed a species for a long time. GeneBank and the museums held a mystery that just simply wasn’t known.

 

 

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You’ll not see another rodent with a skull like this.

All other rodents known to science have chisel-shaped incisors that meet in the front. These teeth grow continuously, and their continuous grinding keeps them sharp and pointed.

All other rodents know to science have molars for grinding down food.

This rodent has neither of these features.

This all sounds bizarre, but this skull belongs to a new species of rat that was discovered on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

This animal was just described to science yesterday in the journal Biology Letters.

If one looks closely at the skull, one can see that it has no molars– at all.

This is very weird for a rodent.

It has incisors. The bottom incisors look very much like those of normal rodents, chisel-shaped, but the top incisors are little fangs.

This new species captured by a team of researchers who set up “pitfall traps”– buried buckets that are level with ground that allow small animals to fall in.

The researchers caught two of them, but they didn’t know until they examined the skull of a dead specimen that they had such weird dentition.

These rats live in high-elevation forests that are covered in moss.

The rats have evolved to live entirely on earthworms.

Earthworms aren’t very hard, so the rats have lost their rodent dentition.

Their teeth are now “worm grabbers.”

Their only purpose is to catch the worm, when the rat sucks it out of the ground with its long muzzle.

The species has been give the name Paucidentomys vermidax. Paucidentomys means “few-toothed mouse,” and verimdax means “worm-eater.”

This new species, which has not yet been given a common name, is closely related to the shrew rats that are found only on Sulawesi and the Philippines. Indeed, this animal is itself a new species of shrew rat. Shrew rats are largely insectivorous in their diet. They still have the typical rodent dentition. They have simply evolved into the shrew’s ecological niche.

This one, however, has become quite specialized to eating only worms.

It’s really unique among all rodents.

No other species of rodent has evolved such bizarre dentition to accommodate such a specialized diet.

Evolution produces lots of bizarre things.

But this is one of the most bizarre.

From a lineage that has produced the most diverse and successful order of mammals on the planet largely through its peculiar dentition, a species has evolved that has totally lost that defining characteristic of its order.

No longer can we say that all rodents have grinding incisors and molars.

We can only say all rodents but one.

And that’s this little shrew-like creature from Sulawesi.

The few-toothed, worm-eating mouse!

 

 

 

 

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Check out this blog, which is beautifully and simply entitled Species New to Science.”  It includes lots of wonderful abstracts to studies that reveal all sorts of newly discovered species.

Including the Annamite striped rabbit (Neolagus timminsi), a species of rabbit discovered in Vietnam and Laos in 2000:

Freaky, eh?

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So says a new genetic study that examined samples from 4,283 individual sharks.  It found 574 species, and 79 of these are likely new species.

These new species are actually cryptic species.  A cryptic species is one that is suddenly discovered from a population of what appear to a species already known to science, or it can happen when two populations that have been classified as the same species turn out to have quite a bit more genetic diversity than was previously thought.

For example:

For example, Naylor’s work suggests that the endangered scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) is actually two separate species. “Scalloped hammerheads in general have taken a huge hit, so it may be even worse than has been documented if there’s more than one species out there,” he says.

Now, this is really an interesting find.

I’ve often wondered if our traditional classification of shark species would withstand molecular genetic analysis.

It doesn’t look like it will.

For example, I’ve often questioned whether all the sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) are all really of the same species. These sharks are found only near coasts, and they are found in quite isolated populations in different parts of the world.

I bet there isn’t much gene flow between those populations– if any– and they likely have been reproductively isolated for a fairly long time.

Sharks have been around for a long time, and even modern species have had more than enough time to experience multiple divergences from a common ancestor.

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These images of an unusual cat were captured by camera trap in the Sundarbans in India. It has been suggested that this is a new species because its markings are intermediate between a fishing cat and a leopard cat. I think it's a leopard cat.

From The Times of India:

The deeper you go into the Sunderbans, the more mysterious it is. The camera traps that have snapped 18 Bengal tigers outside the core area of the mangrove forests also captured two photos of a never-before-seen cat. It could be another species altogether, a eureka moment for conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts.

Forest officers scanning through a bunch of pictures of the wild stopped in their tracks when they came across a small, black cat with a long tail. Nothing of the sort had been seen in decades of documentation and exploration in the Sunderbans.

The Sunderbans is the only tiger reserve in India where leopards have never been seen. Its Bangladeshi side reported the last sighting of a leopard in 1931. The cat spotted in the camera traps is bigger than a wild cat and smaller than a leopard, say sources. It’s not yet known whether it’s a new species but forest officials believe it is a melanistic leopard-cat, a rarity in the animal world…

“We have never seen any animal like this in the Sunderbans. Apart from the 18 tigers, scores of other cats, including jungle and fishing cats, were found during the exercise, which was done outside the reserve area for the first time. Most of them were expected till we came upon two sightings of a black cat with a long tail,” said Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve director Pradeep Vyas.

I think it’s an unusually colored leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis).

These cats are pretty widely distributed in Asia, and they come in several morphs, which were once thought to be several unique species.

I could be wrong about this, of course, and I would definitely like to be proven wrong on this one.

But I can’t convince myself that this is anything other than a leopard cat.

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Juveniles of this newly discovered species can stand on the end of a match. Yes. That's a match!

From OurAmazingPlanet:

A species of chameleon small enough to easily perch on a match head has been discovered on a tiny island off Madagascar, a group of scientists has announced.

In addition to the discovery of Brookesia micra, now the tiniest chameleon ever discovered, the researchers also announced the discovery of three additional tiny chameleon species.

Adult males of the B. micra species grow to only just over a half-inch (16 millimeters) from nose to bottom, making them one of the smallest vertebrates ever found on Earth.

From nose to tail, adults of both sexes grow to only 1 inch (30 mm) in length.

Lead researcher Frank Glaw said the team already had experience finding tiny lizards in Madagascar, “but it was also good luck.”

The team searched for the tiny lizards under the cover of darkness, using headlamps and flashlights to seek out the sleeping chameleons. All four species are active during the day, and at night climb up into the branches to sleep.

But for such tiny critters, “up into the branches” means a mere 4 inches (10 centimeters) off the ground, Glaw told OurAmazingPlanet, so finding them is no easy task. However, once spotted, the tiny lizards aren’t tough to catch, Glaw said.

“They are sleeping and you can just pick them up. It’s like picking a strawberry, so it’s easy,” Glaw said. “They do not move at all at night.”

The team of scientists found the tiny reptiles in Madagascar’s wild northern regions during expeditions between 2003 and 2007. For three of the species, “we immediately identified them as new species,” said Glaw, a veteran herpetologist and curator at the Museum of Natural History in Munich.

“In general, these tiny chameleons are so small that it’s really hard to see the small differences with the naked eye,” he said.

The researchers warn that at least two of the newly-discovered chameleon species are extremely threatened because of habitat loss and deforestation in Madagascar.

Glaw, who has been going to Madagascar to research its ever-expanding list of amphibians and reptiles for a quarter century, said that B. micra may represent the limit of miniaturization possible for a vertebrate with complex eyes, but said it’s impossible to know for sure since each time scientists have proclaimed the discovery of the tiniest one yet, another, tinier species appears.

“Maybe there’s a potential for a smaller species,” Glaw said.

Another group of researchers recently announced the discovery of the world’s smallest frog species in Papua New Guinea. The scientists also declared it the world’s smallest vertebrate, but others contend that a species of angler fish is the smallest vertebrate yet discovered on Earth.

Glaw is planning another expedition to the region of Madagascar in November.

“I’m sure there are many surprises awaiting discovery,” he said.

The research is published in the Feb. 15 issue of the open access journal PLoS ONE.

These three little chameleons are causing quite a stir on the internets.

Last night, I posted a link to the BBC’s article on them. Then, I had two other people send me links, one from Der Spiegel and another that was a link to the same BBC article.

These things certainly do capture the imagination!

 

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Northern pike (Esox lucius) have a Holarctic distribution. Where I live in North America, there are northern pike and muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), and the muskies get larger than the northern pike. Muskies actually approach the size of the largest northern pike in Europe. I grew up near one of West Virginia’s premiere muskie rivers, the Little Kanawha, and there were always muskie stories being told. There were stories of people being bitten as they dangled their hands over the edge of boats and of adult ducks being pulled under water by some unseen predator. I don’t know how many of these stories are true, but they always fascinated me. When you don’t live near an ocean, a good pike story is about the closest thing one can get to a shark story.

With two species of large pike, I guess we were always a bit more privileged than the poor Europeans. Even though their northern pike were larger than ours, they had only one species.

Well, now it appears that there are two species of European pike after all.

A recent study releases in PLoS ONEfound that southern European northern pike were actually very genetically and morphologically distinct. This study relied upon a comparison of two mtDNA loci, and it also used amplified fragment length polymorphism PCR to examine the genome of the fish.

It found that northern pike in Northern Europe were most closely related to those of Canada,  but those of Italy were very distinct.

The northern pike in Northern Eurasia and North America would be very similar.  It is this species that has the Holarctic distribution.

The Southern European species is endemic to Europe, just as the Muskellunge and the chain pickerel are endemic to North America.

Studies like these really can reveal exact taxonomic relationships. My only complaint about this study is that the authors decided to name the newly discovered pike “the southern pike” (Esox flaviae).

However, this is the name by which the chain pickerel is known. The chain pickerel (Esox niger) is one the lesser pike of North America. It is a smaller pike with a more southerly distribution than the large pike species.

Of course, common names in fish vary widely. Anglers in Europe won’t be catching chain pickerels, and those in North America won’t be catching these southern pike.

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