New Round-Eared Elephant-Shrew Discovered in Namibia

First Posted: Jun 27, 2014 03:28 AM EDT

Researchers discover a new species, the 'round-eared sengi',  in the deserts of southwestern Africa.

A third new species of sengi or elephant-shrew has been discovered in the remote desert of Namibia.  This is the smallest of the 19 sengis in the order of Macroscelidea.

The new small creature was identified by researchers from the California Academy of Sciences during research on sengi specimens.

"With only about a dozen new species of mammal discovered in the wild each year, it is amazing that the Academy has been involved in describing three new sengis in the last decade," said Galen Rathbun, an authority on the biology of sengis and an Academy Fellow and Research Associate. "There are new and exciting insights into biodiversity awaiting discovery, even in a group as familiar as mammals."

The new species, Etendeka round-eared sengi (Macroscelides micus), is characterized by its rust colored fur, large hairless gland on the underside of the tail and an absence of dark skin pigment.  Genetic analysis by the researchers highlighted differences between this new specimen and its close relatives.

"Had our colleagues not collected those first invaluable specimens, we would never have realized that this was in fact a new species, since the differences between this and all other known species are very subtle," says Drs. Jack Dumbacher, the Academy's Curator of Ornithology and Mammalogy.

For comparative analysis, the researchers collected 16 specimens from various places. They found that Marcoscelides Micus was genetically different from other species of the genus.  This finding is interesting as it highlights the presence of mammal fauna that is left unexplored in several areas of the world.

Sengis are mainly found in Africa and irrespective of the small size, are closely related to elephants, sea cows and aardvarks.  The new sengi specimen has been added to the Namib Desert dioama exhibit in the Academy's African Hall. 

The finding is reported in the journal of Mammalogy.

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