Researchers working in Ecuador have identified a previously unknown species of shrew-opossum, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Mammalogy. Contrary to its mousey appearance, Caenolestes sangay, named after the national park where it was discovered, is actually a marsupial.
The team from Pacific Lutheran University set up more than 100 live traps over 15 nights on the eastern slopes of the Andes. In the course of their research they recovered five specimens of the new species, each measuring approximately 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) long. Previously, researchers had considered it to be a subspecies due to its similarities with other populations inhabiting the western slopes of the Andes. Upon further scrutiny, however, the young field workers noticed a difference in the shape of the animal’s head.
The newly discovered marsupialCaenolestes sangay) with its signature small ears and long snout. Photo courtesy of Ojala-Barbour, et all.
“The most similar species lives in the western slopes of the Andes, so our first guess was that we found a geographical variant,” said Ojala-Barbour, a fellowship student leading the expedition. “We concluded, however, from the morphology of the skull and the DNA, that this was a different species.”
Worldwide, there are more than 260 species of marsupials, many of which live in Australasia. Other species of shrew-opossum are known to live in the cloud forests of the High Andes, including the slopes of Colombia and Venezuela. Typical habitat for these mammals consists of hollow logs and underground chambers accessible from the forest floor where they eat a diet of fruit and insects. Due to this hostile terrain, they are notoriously difficult to study and very little is known about their reproductive behavior. As this is secretive and remote habitat, there are likely to be more species of shrew-opossum that have yet to be discovered.
According to co-discoverer Miguel Pinto, “the Andes are still terra incognita; several plants and animals remain to be described and studied in detail.”
- Reed Ojala-Barbour, C. Miguel Pinto, Jorge Brito M., Luis Albuja V., Thomas E. Lee, Jr., and Bruce D. Patterson (2013) A new species of shrew-opossum (Paucituberculata: Caenolestidae) with a phylogeny of extant caenolestids. Journal of Mammalogy: October 2013, Vol. 94, No. 5, pp. 967-982.
Last disease-free Tasmanian devils imperiled by mine
(08/07/2013) The federal environment minister, Mark Butler, has given the go-ahead to a controversial mine that the courts halted amid concerns it could drastically affect the last stronghold of the Tasmanian devil. Butler said he had granted approval to Shree Minerals to proceed with its iron ore mine at Nelson Bay River in the north-west of Tasmania, subject to 30 conditions.
Australian logger: finding dead koalas ‘a daily thing’
(07/24/2013) Revelations of koalas suffering graphic injuries and death in Victorian timber plantations are evidence of a long-standing failure to properly protect the iconic Australian marsupials, according to a leading conservation organization. Footage on Monday night’s 7.30 report showed koalas, including babies, lying dead on the floor of a cleared forest. One koala was missing an arm while another injured animal relocated to a new area of bush was shown to be in visible distress.
Scientist: Australia taking ‘calculated actions’ to push Leadbeater’s possum to extinction
(06/06/2013) Australia’s leading scientific expert on the endangered Leadbeater’s possum has publicly lambasted the Victorian state government, claiming it is the first ever domestic administration to take “calculated actions” that it knew could wipe out a threatened species. In a letter published in the respected journal Science, Prof David Lindenmayer, of the Australian National University, states that “government-sanctioned legal logging of the reserve system will signiﬁcantly increase the chance of extinction of Leadbeater’s possum.”
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013
(12/19/2013) 1. China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China’s environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world’s largest consumer of coal, China’s growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation’s emissions could peak within the decade. If China’s emissions begin to fall, so too could the world’s.
Scientists make one of the biggest animal discoveries of the century: a new tapir
(12/16/2013) In what will likely be considered one of the biggest (literally) zoological discoveries of the Twenty-First Century, scientists today announced they have discovered a new species of tapir in Brazil and Colombia. The new mammal, hidden from science but known to local indigenous tribes, is actually one of the biggest animals on the continent, although it’s still the smallest living tapir. Described in the Journal of Mammology, the scientists have named the new tapir Tapirus kabomani after the name for “tapir” in the local Paumari language: “Arabo kabomani.”
New mountain porcupine discovered in Brazil (photos)
(12/09/2013) In Brazil’s Baturite Mountains, scientists have uncovered a new species of prehensile-tailed porcupine, according to a new paper in Revista Nordestina de Biologia. Dubbed, the Baturite porcupine (Coendou baturitensis), the new species was discovered when scientists noticed significant differences between it and its closest relative, the Brazilian porcupine (Coendou prehensilis). The name prehensile-tailed refers to these porcupines long, mobile tail which they use as a fifth limb to adroitly climb trees.