Two New Species of Lemurs Revealed

Mar 26, 2013 by Sci-News.com

Biologists led by Dr Peter Kappeler from the University of Göttingen in Germany have announced the identification of two new lemur species in the genus Microcebus.

Caught on camera for the first time, this image shows the newly identified Marohita mouse lemur, Microcebus marohita (Photo courtesy of Peter Kappeler)

Caught on camera for the first time, this image shows the newly identified Marohita mouse lemur, Microcebus marohita (Photo courtesy of Peter Kappeler)

Microcebus lemurs, also known as mouse lemurs, are omnivorous, nocturnal primates native to Madagascar.

A new study, published in the International Journal of Primatology, brings the number of scientifically recognized species of mouse lemurs to 20, making them the most diverse group of lemurs known. But because these shy creatures look so much alike, it’s only possible to tell them apart with genetic sequencing.

“You can’t really tell them apart just looking at them through binoculars in the rainforest,” Dr Kappeler said.

The two new species were first captured by study co-author Dr Rodin Rasoloarison of the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar in 2003 and 2007. The biologist weighed and measured them and took tiny skin samples for genetic analysis in the lab.

Study co-authors Dr Anne Yoder and Dr Dave Weisrock, both from Duke University, analyzed two mDNA and four nuclear DNA genes to figure out where the animals fit into the lemur family tree. Their results were published in 2010, but this is the first time the species have been formally named and described.

One of the newly identified species has been named the Anosy mouse lemur, or Microcebus tanosi. The other new species has been named the Marohita mouse lemur, or Microcebus marohita, after the forest where it was found. In Malagasy, the word ‘marohita’ means ‘many views.’ They weigh 2.5 to 3 ounces (65-85 grams) and have grey-brown fur.

“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,” Dr Kappeler said.

“Knowing exactly how many species we have is essential for determining which areas to target for conservation,” he added.

Photo of Microcebus murinus, the grey mouse lemur, that's considered an alternative model system to mice and rats in biomedical research on human disease and aging (David Haring, Duke University’s Lemur Center)

Photo of Microcebus murinus, the grey mouse lemur, that’s considered an alternative model system to mice and rats in biomedical research on human disease and aging (David Haring, Duke University’s Lemur Center)

A better understanding of mouse lemur diversity could help humans too. Mouse lemurs are a closer genetic match to humans than mice and rats, the most common lab animals. At least one species – the grey mouse lemur Microcebus murinus – develops a neurological disease that is strikingly similar to human Alzheimer’s, so the animals are considered important models for understanding the aging brain.

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Bibliographic information: Rasoloarison R et al. Two new species of mouse lemurs (Cheirogaleidae: Microcebus) from eastern Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology, March 2013; doi: 10.1007/s10764-013-9672-1