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Fri, April 5, 2013

Two New Species of Mouse Lemurs Discovered

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April 5, 2013

Two New Species of Mouse Lemurs Discovered

As published in the March 2013 International Journal of Primatology, a team of international researchers has discovered two new species of mouse lemurs, using DNA analysis from skin samples.

The mouse lemurs were first discovered in 2003, when the study, the first of its kind to formally identify the mouse lemur as a separate species, began. However it wasn’t until the recent DNA analysis was conducted that the lemurs were in fact determined to be two different species. This finding brings the total number of mouse lemurs to 20 species, making them the most diverse group of lemurs.

The Marohita (Microbus marohita), one of the newly discovered species, is now considered the largest species of mouse lemurs, with a body length of 13.5 centimeters, or a total length of 28 centimeters including their bushy tails, with a weight of about 78 grams. The Marohita’s seemingly identical cousin and the second newly identified species, the Anosy (Microbus tanosi), has a nose-to-tail length of 27 centimeters and weight of 51 grams.

Lemurs are found only on the African island of Madagascar. Mouse lemurs are the smallest species of lemur and one of the smallest species of primates in the world. These nocturnal primates are mostly found in Madagascar’s eastern Marohita forest and in the southeastern Anosy region.

The team hopes this new discovery will shed light on conservation issues, such as deforestation and poaching, as the new mouse lemur’s namesake forest, the Marohita, has reportedly been “seriously fragmented and destroyed” since the study began 10 years ago. The scientists working on the mouse lemur study hope to have these two new species added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN), Red List of endangered animals.

According to the IUCN, more than 11 million hectares of the island nations forests have been destroyed over the past 20 years. The IUCN also reports that 91 percent of the nearly 100 lemur species face extinction, the worse case being the northern sportive lemur species, which has only 19 known individuals left.

The scientists in this study were: David W. Weisrock from the University of Kentucky, Anne D. Yoder from Duke University, Rodin Rasoloarison from the University of Madagascar, Daniel Rakotondravony from the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar and Peter M. Kappeler from the University of Göttingen in Germany.

The Lemur Center in Madagascar, sponsored by Duke University, is developing educational programs to reach out to the local populations on conservation issues to preserve these endangered primates and their habitats.

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