Two new species of a mouse lemur are so similar, it’s impossible to tell them apart without a genetic analysis.
Study researcher Rodin Rasoloarison of the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar discovered the new species of lemur on the African island of Madagascar in 2003 and 2007.
The researchers named one of them the Anosy mouse lemur, or Microcebus tanosi. Anosy mouse lemurs are close neighbors with grey mouse lemurs and grey-brown mouse lemurs, but the genetic data indicate they don’t interbreed.
Then when researchers found the second species in 2007, they named it the Marohita mouse lemur, or Microcebus marohita, after the forest where it was found. In Malagasy, the word “marohita” means “many views.”
Rasoloarison weighed the nocturnal animals, measured them and took small skin samples for later analysis.
They measured in at less than 11 inches (27 centimeters) from nose to tail and have gray-brown coats, while only weighing 2.5 to 3 ounces (65-85 grams).
“You can’t really tell them apart just looking at them through binoculars in the rainforest,” said senior author Peter Kappeler of the German Primate Center in Goettingen.
Co-authors Anne Yoder and Dave Weisrock, both at Duke University at the time the lemurs were discovered, analyzed two mitochondrial and four nuclear DNA genes to figure out where the animals fit into the lemur family tree.
“I suspect that there are even more mouse lemur species out there to be found (indeed, there are hints of that in some of our genetic data). Mouse lemurs are morphologically cryptic, they are tiny, they are nocturnal, and they occur in remote places. It therefore makes a lot of sense that the harder we look, the more species we will find,” says Yoder.
In 2012, Rasoloarison returned to the forest where the Marohita mouse lemur was first discovered. Rasoloarison discovered that much of the lemur’s forest home had been cleared since his first visit in 2003.
“As revealed by a recent visit (in 2012), the forest of Marohita is highly degraded and has been substantially damaged since the initial collecting trip from 2003,” researchers report. “Thus, despite its species’ name, this mouse lemur is threatened by ongoing habitat destruction, and “many views” of its members are unlikely.”
With the forest being demolished and putting the lemur’s habitat in danger, it prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify the new species as “endangered” even before it was formally described.
“This species is a prime example of the current state of many other lemur species,” Kappeler said in a press release. “Mouse lemurs have lived in Madagascar for 7 to 10 million years. But since humans arrived on the island some 2,500 years ago, logging and slash and burn agriculture have taken their toll on the forests where these tree-dwelling primates live.”
Only 10 percent of Madagascar’s original forests remain today, which makes lemurs the most endangered mammals in the world according to the IUCN.
“Knowing exactly how many species we have is essential for determining which areas to target for conservation,” Kappeler said.
Mouse Lemurs at Duke Lemur Center
The Duke Lemur Center is the only facility in North America currently breeding mouse lemurs, some of the smallest primates on the planet.
In order of appearance: Dogbane (singleton), Bluebell, Blackberry, and Pipkin (triplets)
New Baby Mouse Lemurs at Duke Lemur Center
New babies are at the Duke Lemur Center! Highlighted in the video are baby mouse lemurs born between 2 weeks to 3 months ago from posting.
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