Friday, February 01, 2008

The Naming of the Shrew

In a rare discovery of a new species of mammal, zoologists on Thursday said they had identified a shrew-like creature called a grey-faced sengi living in a small community in remote Tanzania.

Sengis -- small, furry, insect-eating mammals that live on forest floors -- are also called elephant-shrews. Until now, only 15 species of sengis were known, but this one is truly exceptional, the proud investigators said.

The newcomer, dubbed Rhynchocyon udzungwensis, stands head and shoulders above his cousins, weighing in at a massive 700 grammes (1.5 pounds), about 25 percent larger than any other known sengi.

He was identified by scientists Galen Rathbun of the California Academy of Sciences and Francesco Rovero of the Museum of Natural Sciences in Trento, Italy. Their discovery is published in the February issue of the British-based Journal of Zoology.

"This is one of the most exciting discoveries of my career," Rathbun, a 30-year veteran of sengi-watching, said in a press release.

"It is the first new species of giant elephant-shrew to be discovered in more than 126 years. From the moment I first lifted one of the animals into our photography tent, I knew it must be a new species -- not just because of its distinct colouring, but because it was so heavy!"

R. udzungwensis has "a distinctive grey face and a jet-black lower rump," said the press release, issued by the California Academy of Sciences.

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