Andes field trip reveals new species of climbing rodent

Zoologists have discovered a new species of squirrel-like mammal, which they have described as a strikingly unusual creature, in the high mountains of Peru.

The nocturnal animal looks similar to a squirrel, and is about the same size, but DNA tests have shown that it is more closely related to a family of South American spiny rats, whose fur bristles with spines.

The new species is a climbing rodent with strange-looking, long, dense fur, a broad head and thickly furred tail tipped with white. It also has a distinctive blackish crest of fur on its crown, nape and shoulders.

Scientists discovered the rodent during a field survey in 1999 of Peru's Manu National Park and Biosphere Reserve Mountains on the lush eastern slopes of the Andes in southern Peru, which is one of the richest regions in the world for wildlife.

Its formal scientific description and official naming has only now been made public with the publication today of a description of the Manu reserve findings in the journal Mastozoologia Neotropical. The same field trip, which extended from 1999 to 2001, uncovered 11 additional species new to science, namely one opossum, seven bats and three other rodents.

"Like other tropical mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas, the Andes support a fantastic variety of habitats. These in turn support some of the richest faunas on the planet," said Bruce Patterson, the curator of mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago, who led the research team.

"The new species is not only a handsome novelty. Preliminary DNA analyses suggest that its nearest relatives, all restricted to the lowlands, may have arisen from Andean ancestors," Dr Patterson said.

"The newly discovered species casts a striking new light on the evolution of an entire group of arboreal rodents," he added.

Little is known about the species - which has been named Isothrix barbarabrownae after a Field Museum scientist called Barbara Brown - except that it lives in the cloud forests at an altitude of 6,200 feet and probably feeds on seeds, nuts, berries and small insects.

Subsequent attempts to find further specimens of the rodent have failed. The species is known to have five other close relatives belonging to the same genus living in South America.

The Manu reserve extends from the lowland forests of the Amazon basin to open grasslands above the Andean tree line.

It is home to more species of mammals and birds than any other area of the world of comparable size. In total, the team recorded 222 species of mammals, 94 of which were bats, and 1,003 species of birds, twice the number of breeding bird species in North America, during the three-year field trip.

Sam Turvey, a research fellow at the Zoological Society of London, said that this region of South America is renown for being one of the richest regions in the world for biodiversity.

"It covers an area from low to very high altitude, which supports many different kinds of ecosystems. It's very much a centre for biodiversity," Dr Turvey said. "People think it's very unusual to describe a new species of mammal such as this one but in fact several new mammals and birds are routinely reported each year. There's still a lot of new species of relatively large animals in the world left to be described, certainly more than we think."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back