scientists discover mouse-like mammal related to elephants
Send a link to a friend
[June 27, 2014]
By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - A new mammal discovered in the
remote desert of western Africa resembles a long-nosed mouse in
appearance but is more closely related genetically to elephants, a
California scientist who helped identify the tiny creature said on
The new species of elephant shrew, given the scientific name
Macroscelides micus, inhabits an ancient volcanic formation in
Namibia and sports red fur that helps it blend in with the color of
its rocky surroundings, said John Dumbacher, one of a team of
biologists behind the discovery.
Genetic testing of the creature – which weighs up to an ounce (28
grams) and measures 7.5 inches (19 cm) in length, including its tail
– revealed its DNA to be more akin to much larger mammals.
"It turns out this thing that looks and acts like shrews that
evolved in Africa is more closely related to elephants," said
Dumbacher, a curator of birds and mammals at the California Academy
of Sciences in San Francisco.
The findings, published in the Journal of Mammalogy, floored
scientists, who said the only visible link between an African
elephant and the diminutive shrew is its trunk-like nose.
An elongated snout is a common feature of various shrew species,
many of which look like long-nosed mice externally, though shrews
are not classified as rodents.
Dumbacher likened the newly discovered mammal to a small antelope in
its physique and sleeping habits and to a scaled-down anteater in
hunting techniques and preferred prey.
Like an antelope, the creature has long, spindly legs relative to
its body size, and hunkers down next to bushes to sleep rather than
burrowing. Like an anteater, it uses its extended nose to sweep the
ground in search of ants and other insects.
[to top of second column]
The desert-dwelling shrew is prone to giving birth to twins, which
hit the ground running like the calves of some types of African
Biologists plan to return to Africa in the coming months to outfit
the new mammals with miniscule radio collars to learn more about
their habits, Dumbacher said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman from Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Steve
Gorman and Sandra Maler)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.