New species of lemur discovered in Madagascar

Image: Courtesy Conservation International

It’s cute with a long tongue and big feet and it’s not much bigger than a squirrel. Scientists from Conservation International have announced the discovery of a potentially new species of lemur in Madagascar.

There are currently four species of the genus Phaner, with a long tongue to eat nectar, large hands and feet for travelling through the trees, and the black y-shaped line, starting above each eye, that gives them their name. This lemur could be the fifth species in this genus, but it is suspected that it will turn out to be endangered or even critically endangered due to its limited range.

This species was first spotted in 1995 by Dr Russ Mittermeier, the President of Conservation International and a world renowned primate expert, in Daraina (a protected area of North-east Madagascar). He was surprised to see the fork-marked lemur there, as it had not been previously recorded there, but didn’t have time to look closer.

So in October this year, Dr Mittermeier led an expedition to track the fork-marked lemur. They heard the lemur calling from the top of a tree just after sunset, but it proved hard to catch as it moved from tree to tree, forcing the researchers to run through the forest following its calls.

Eventually, the lemur was captured (with the aid of a dart gun) and kept sedated overnight so that the team could take samples and examine it in more detail. It was then released back to its forest home.

There are just over 100 species (over 40 have been found in the last decade), found only on the island of Madagascar. They are believed to have evolved in isolation from other primates and are named after ghosts or spirits (lemurs) in Roman Mythology due to their nocturnal lifestyle and ghostly calls.

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