Rare Sengi Species Discovered in Southern Africa

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The Journal of Mammalogy reports on a new species of sengi, or elephant-shrew, that has been found in Namibia. Small and swift, these unusual mammals are the unlikely distant relatives of elephants and aardvarks.

Journal of Mammalogy Volume 95 Issue 3

A new species of sengi, or elephant-shrew, has been found in Namibia. Small and swift, these unusual mammals are the unlikely distant relatives of elephants and aardvarks. The new species joins a small family but is visibly different from other sengis.

In an article in the current issue of the Journal of Mammalogy, the authors describe the new species in detail. There are only two other species in the Macroscelides genus, but the round-eared sengi’s features and DNA differ enough that it has been named Macroscelides micus. It is found only in Namibia and seems to be restricted to gravel plains in the northwestern part of the country.

The first round-eared sengi turned up in the collection at the California Academy of Sciences, prompting researchers to search for it in the wild. After nine collecting trips, researchers trapped and studied 15 additional round-eared sengi.

Researchers traveled to the ancient volcanic formation, Etendeka in Namibia, where the first round-eared sengi had been captured and set traps for 5,616 nights over the course of six years. They caught sengis using baited live traps and recording their locations with the aid of GPS. The researchers then studied skin, skulls, tissue, as well as DNA and used photographs and measurements to determine the uniqueness of the species and its habitat.

Sengis in general have an odd combination of features: spindly legs, anteater-like snouts and tongues, and mouselike tails. The authors found that round-eared sengis differ further from their fellow species. M. micus is the smallest sengi, but a gland on its tail, believed to produce attractant and identification scents, is larger than species. The M. micus has rust-colored fur, matching the gravel slopes it prefers, but lacks the underlying dark skin that is found on other sengis.

While comparing the round-eared sengi with other species, researchers also found DNA differences. M. micus does not appear to cross-breed with M. flavicaudatus even though the two species share some of the same habitat. The third sengi species in the genus, M. proboscideus, lives in an area 500 km south.

Despite thousands of attempts, few sengis were trapped. The authors speculate that their movement and population size is limited by their small, harsh and, dry habitat. Sengis are also shy, and the round-eared sengis did not appear to move along trails, making it difficult to target frequented areas for trapping.

Full text of the article “A new species of round-eared sengi (genus Macroscelides) from Namibia,” Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 95, No. 3, 2014, is now available.


About the Journal of Mammalogy
The Journal of Mammalogy, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mammalogists, is produced six times per year. A highly respected scientific journal, it details the latest research in the science of mammalogy and was recently named one of the top 100 most influential journals of biology and medicine in the last century by the Special Libraries Association. For more information, visit http://www.mammalogy.org/.

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Taylor Fulton
Allen Press, Inc.
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