Friday, 4 July 2014 | MYT 7:00 AM

New species of desert shrew is more elephant than mouse

The DNA of a long-nosed desert shrew newly discovered in Namibia reveals it as more closely related to elephants than mice.

The new species of elephant shrew, given the scientific name Macroscelides micus, inhabits an ancient volcanic formation in Namibia and sports fur that helps it blend in with the colour of its rocky surroundings, said John Dumbacher, a member of a team of biologists behind the discovery.

Genetic testing of the creature, which weighs up to 28g and measures 19cm in length, 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.

A Macroscelides micus elephant shrew found in the remote deserts of southwestern Africa surprised biologists when its DNA map revealed it's more closely related to the much bigger elephant than a mouse, which it resembles. — Reuters

The findings, published in the Journal of Mammalogy on June 26, 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.

The desert-dwelling shrew is prone to giving birth to twins, which hit the ground running like the calves of some types of African antelope.

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. – Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Features , Science , Nature , Wildlife , Animals , Biology , research , new species , mammal , elephant shrew , desert shrew , sengi , Macroscelides micus , Namibia , DNA , Journal of Mammology , cute


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