Potentially new species of lemur found in Madagascar

Close-up of a potentially new species of fork-marked lemur discovered in Madagascar. © Conservation International/ photo by Russell A. Mittermeier

Take a squirrel-sized body, and combine it with big feet, a long tongue, and black-forked markings on the face, and you have the oddly adorable countenance of a species of lemur just discovered in Madagascar.

“This is yet another remarkable discovery from the island of Madagascar…one of the most extraordinary places in our planet” said Conservation International President Russ Mittermeier in a press release, who was the first to spot the animal. Researchers believe the species to be new to science.

Finding this cutie-pie sounds like something plucked from the chase scenes of Indiana Jones. Mittermeier and his colleagues ran through dense forest at night, following the calls of the lemur as it leapt rapidly from treetop to treetop. Catching the lemur in the beam of a flashlight, researchers were able to safely tranquilize it for closer examination.

Close-up of a potentially new species of fork-marked lemur discovered in Madagascar, October 3, 2010. © Conservation International/ photo by Russell A. Mittermeier

Limited geographic range and life in a severely human-impacted environment likely means this species – of the genus phaner – is already endangered or critically endangered, said Mittermeier.

Researchers are now working on establishing the lemur’s genetic uniqueness and learning about its life history and behavior. So far, besides getting a good grip on the lemur’s looks, researchers know that this critter’s diet consists mostly of tree gum and flower nectar, they utter loud, high-pitched calls at night and practice a head-bobbing motion that is unique to this species.

Lemurs are only found in Madagascar, a country that’s lost about 90 percent of its forests and other vegetation.

“Protection of Madagascar’s remaining natural forests should be considered one of the world’s highest conservation priorities,” said Mittermeier in the press release. “These forests are home to an incredible array of species that are a true global heritage.”

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