The naming of the elephant-shrew

For the first time in more than a century, researchers have found a giant elephant-shrew entirely new to science. The largest such species yet found, Rhynchocyon udzungwensis is somewhat bigger than a gray squirrel.

F. Rovero/Trento (Italy) Museum of Natural Sciences

To see a video of the newly named species, click here or on the image above. The clip was taken by a remote camera set up to survey wildlife in Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains.
Photo: F. Rovero/Trento (Italy) Museum of Natural Sciences; Video courtesy of Trevor Jones, Anglia Ruskin University

Recent molecular analyses show that the 16 elephant-shrew species aren’t shrews at all, but belong to a broad group that includes aardvarks, sea cows—and elephants. Galen Rathbun of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco describes elephant-shrews as part miniature antelope (with a bounding run and quick-to-stand babies), part anteater (hunting invertebrates), and part rodent (furry with a long tail). The snout is “very wiggly but not prehensile,” he says. Rathbun and his colleagues found four specimens in Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains. The formal description appears in the February Journal of Zoology.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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