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New Type of Mouse Discovered 2006-10-13

Posted by clype in Discovery, Europe, Science.
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A new species of mammal — a mouse with unusually large ears and eyes — has been discovered on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. It is the first new mammal species to be found in Europe in over a century, the researchers claim.

[Picture of new mouse]Genetic tests prove that the grey mouse is indeed a new species, which has been named ‘Mus Cypriacus’ (Cypriot mouse). It overturns the widely held belief that every living species of mammal had been identified in Europe.

New mammal species are rare finds even in remote, uncharted regions of the tropics, such as New Guinea, and it was generally assumed that the European biodiversity had been entirely picked over by the natural history pioneers of the 19th century. To find a relatively large new species of mammal is remarkable, experts say.

The creature has a larger head, bigger ears, more prominent eyes, and more ‘prehistoric’ teeth than any other known species of mouse. It was discovered by chance by archaeologist Mr.Thomas Cucchi from ‘The University of Durham‘.

Mr.Cucchi was on the island comparing the Stone Age mouse fossils to modern species on the island. One of the modern specimens turned out to be morphologically very similar to the ancient fossils, prompting him to carry out genetic tests.

The tests revealed Cypriot mouse to be the same species as the Stone Age fossils. It must have arrived before the island of Cyprus broke away from mainland Europe, and well before the arrival of humans, around 10 000 years ago.

‘It is an endemic species of mouse that has somehow survived the arrival of humans and the other species of mice that people accidentally brought with them when they colonised the island,’ says Mr.Keith Dobney, who heads the research team at ‘The University of Durham’.

‘The ancient mouse species is fairly similar to the common house mouse and so it has been overlooked until now — people must have assumed it was just a sub-species of house mouse that evolved recently on the islands,’ he told ‘New Scientist’.

In fact, the genetic evidence shows it to be an ‘ancient relic’, closer to its prehistoric ancestor than any modern cousin. Other mammals endemic to the island died out with the arrival of man, except two species of shrew.

‘The new mouse is the only endemic rodent still alive and as such can be considered a living fossil,’ Mr.Cucchi told ‘The Associated Press’.

  • In 2005-08 researchers from Conservation International found a new species of tree rat in the Amapa region of the Brazilian rainforest.
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