New species a little nipper

Recently discovered vontsira is first new carnivore in two decades

Scientists have found the first new carnivore species to be discovered in more than 20 years, a mongoose-like creature with a pointed snout and sharp teeth that lives in the swampy wetlands of Lac Alaotra, Madagascar’s largest lake.

MUG SHOT A small creature called a Durrell’s vontsira is the first new carnivore species discovered in more than 20 years. The critter was caught in the wetlands of Madagascar’s largest lake and probably eats mollusks and other shellfish. Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

The new beastie was spotted swimming in the lake by researchers from the Natural History Museum in London, Nature Heritage, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Conservation International as the biologists surveyed bamboo lemurs, another mammal found exclusively on Madagascar. Closer inspection suggested the animal was a vontsira, a mammal in the family Eupleridae, whose eight members are found only on the island. Euplerids tend to have slender bodies similar to cats or weasels and mostly eat meat, although some species eat fruit. Genetic analyses suggest the new vontsira is very closely related to the brown-tailed vontsira, Salanoia concolor, which lives in nearby rainforests.

Comparisons with museum specimens suggest that the teeth and distinct habitat of the marsh-dwelling vontsira warrant granting it specieshood, the team reports in the September Systematics and Biodiversity. The researchers are calling it Durrell’s vontsira, after conservationist and writer Gerald Durrell.

Madagascar is believed to have split from mainland Africa more than 100 million years ago, creating a playground for evolution. The island is home to whole families of plants, primates and birds that are found nowhere else in the world. The team notes that the vontsira’s swampy home recently lost a member: The Alaotra grebe, Tachybaptus rufolavatus, was declared extinct by the IUCN earlier this year.

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