Tetrapod Zoology

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As explained in the previous article, here’s another by-now-outdated effort to report on stuff that’s been published recently, or recently-ish. This time: mammals.

Several neat new fossil mammal discoveries have gone unreported in the press so far as I can tell. Deng & Qiu (2007) recently reported the first black rhino – that is, a member of the genus Diceros – from eastern Asia. Similar to the extant black rhino D. bicornis in size, the Chinese animal is from the Late Miocene Liushu Formation of Gansu Province and has been named D. gansuensis. The Liushu Formation has also recently yielded another first for China: a deinothere (Qiu et al. 2007). Represented only by a lower jaw, the specimen is a new species of Prodeinotherium, named P. sinense. This species is larger than other Prodeinotherium species and differs from them in having a particularly small lower third premolar, in having less ventrally directed mandibular tusks and in other details.

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Incidentally, the authors of this paper say that proboscidean experts universally recognise two deinothere genera (Prodeinotherium and Deinotherium [skull of latter shown in adjacent image: © Oxford University Museum]). However, they have overlooked Chilgatherium from the Oligocene of Ethiopia, named by Sanders et al. (2004). Deinotheres are bizarre, fascinating and enigmatic: I will cover them some time [since writing this, I've seen that Emile, at The World We Don't Live In, has also just written about deinotheres here. After meaning to do so for ages, I finally got round to adding Emile to the Tet Zoo blogroll. Check out the other new additions as well].

Giant sengis

Moving now to extant mammals, far better publicised has been the new giant sengi Rhynchocyon udzungwensis from the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania (Rovero et al. 2008). Dubbed the Grey-faced sengi, R. udzungwensis [shown in image at top] is 25-50% bigger than other giant sengis, exceeding them in length by 10-20%. Its grey forehead and face, jet black rump and thigh, rufous dorsal stripe and remarkably long upper toothrow are all unique and diagnostic. Of particular interest is that the Grey-faced sengi was first recorded by camera-traps in 2005, and it was these results that led to the 2006 expedition to procure specimens.

The description of another new tetrapod endemic to the Udzungwa Mountains is significant: this area has proved to be a hotspot of discovery, and of endemics. Six new viviparous tree toads (Nectophrynoides) were described from the region between 1988 and 2004, the Udzungwa partridge Xenoperdix udzungwensis was discovered here in 1991 (a second species within Xenoperdix was recognised in 2005 [Bowie & Fjeldså 2005]), the Kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji was discovered here in 2003 (I wrote about kipunjis at Tet Zoo ver 1 here and here), a new Udzungwa seps (Tetradactylus) was named in 2004, Phillip’s Congo shrew Congosorex phillipsorum was named from the region in 2005, and the new prehensile-tailed gecko Urocotyledon rasmusseni was named in 2006.

Incidentally, for those of you curious about the fossil history of sengis (it’s yet another of those oft-commented-on-but-never-elaborated-on areas), you might be interested in seeing the short answer I recently provided on Ask A Biologist (here).

Lemurs, uakaris and (argh) hobbits

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Moving now to primates, we have yet more new lemur species: using molecular analysis, Lei et al. (2008) have argued that the woolly lemurs (Avahi) and sportive lemurs (Lepilemur) of the Masoala Peninsula include new, hitherto overlooked species. The new woolly lemur, Moore’s woolly lemur or the Masoala woolly lemur A. mooreorum [shown in adjacent image, from Lei et al. 2008], has a less prominent face-mask than other species in the genus and a reddish-brown tail. The new sportive lemur, Scott’s sportive lemur L. scottorum, is a mid-sized reddish brown sportive lemur with whitish cheeks and eyebrows. It is proving difficult to keep up with all the new lemurs, and indeed I gave up a while ago. There are currently nine woolly lemurs (with more to be described soon), and something like 24 sportive lemurs (again, with more on the way soon). Incidentally, not well known outside of primatology is that the little sportive lemurs are apparently close relatives of the sadly extinct koala lemurs.

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Also recently announced is the discovery of a new Amazonian monkey from near the Brazil-Venezuela border, a black uakari which will be named Cacajao ayresii [shown in adjacent image] after the late Brazilian biologist José Márcio Ayres. Those of you who keep up to date with Marc van Roosmalen’s new discoveries will recall that he has also announced the discovery of a new uakari although, unlike C. ayresii, Marc’s animal is one of the white species. Incidentally, Marc will be announcing several new species later this year: keep an eye on his website.

In other news, new papers continue to regularly appear on Homo floresiensis, the hominids that I wish were not called hobbits but are. Colin Groves recently produced a nice review, and (speaking however as a non-expert) I am inclined to agree with him that the constant claims of cretinism, microcephaly and so on ‘have had more publicity than the quality of their arguments deserve’ (Groves 2008, p. 16). Colin Groves has also just been in the news because a mysterious Sri Lankan chevrotain, possibly representing the ‘undescribed species’ of Groves & Meijaard (2005), has just been photographed for the first time. All the stuff I’ve seen on the web mindlessly quotes the same report (taken from here). All Asian chevrotains used to be included in Tragulus, but Groves & Meijaard (2005) argued that the Indian and Sri Lankan chevrotains are distinct enough to be classified separately as Moschiola.

That’ll do for now. Still have to finish doing the articles on European cats (that’s right, not yet finished). Also coming soon: intelligent dinosaurs… again!

Refs – -

Bowie, R. C. K. & Fjeldså, J. 2005. Genetic and morphological evidence for two species in the Udzungwa forest partridge. Journal of East African Natural History 94, 191-201.

Deng, T. & Qiu, Z.-X., 2007. First discovery of Diceros (Perissodactyla, Rhinocerotidae) in China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 45, 287-306.

Groves, C. 2008. Walking with hobbits. Australasian Science 29 (2), 16-18.

- . & Meijaard, E. 2005. Interspecific variation in Moschiola, the Indian chevrotain. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 12, 413-421.

Lei, R., Engberg, S. E., Andriantompohavana, R., McGuire, S. M., Mittermeier, R. A., Zaonarivelo, J. R., Brenneman, R. A. & Louis, E. E. 2008. Nocturnal lemur diversity at Masoala National Park. Special Publications, Museum of Texas Tech University 53, 1-41.

Qiu, Z.-X., Wang, B.-Y., Li, H., Deng, T. & Sun, Y. 2007. First discovery of deinothere in China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 45, 261-277.

Rovero, F., Rathbun, G. B., Perkin, A., Jones, T., Ribble, D. O., Leonard, C., Mwakisoma, R. R. & Doggart, N. 2008. A new species of giant sengi or elephant-shrew (genus Rhynchocyon) highlights the exceptional biodiversity of the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania. Journal of Zoology 274, 126-133.

Sanders, W. J., Kappelman, J. & Rasmussen, D. T. 2004. New large-bodied mammals from the late Oligocene site of Chilga, Ethiopia. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 49, 365-392.


  1. #1 Jerzy
    March 20, 2008

    A propos rhinos:
    I hoped you write about rhinos wiped in C China by emperors. Curiously, nobody knows what species they were. Sumatran? Javan? Indian?
    C China some centuries ago had also temperate climate asian elephants, gibbon which is unknown species (hoolock? white-cheeked?) and lived in snow-covered mountains, and possibly separate sp. of water buffalo.

    BTW – anybody knows good source of info on these?

  2. #2 Neil
    March 20, 2008

    More elephant shrews and lemurs – definately good news in my book. Are there any (live) elephant shrews on display in the UK?

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    March 20, 2008

    What is a seps?

    and possibly separate sp. of water buffalo.

    Do you mean “and possibly {a separate species of water buffalo}” or “and a {possibly separate} species of water buffalo”?

  4. #4 Jerzy
    March 20, 2008

    Extinct population of water buffalo, which I once seen considered separate species, but never seen details or reason of this status.

    We talk about prehistoric and historic extinctions, and obliteration of whole set of mammals in C Chinese plains is almost unknown.

  5. #5 Emile
    March 21, 2008

    What is a seps?

    It’s a type of lizard. I think it refers to snakelike lizards with small legs, since it’s been used for Tetradactylus cordylids and Chalcides skinks.

    Oh, and thanks for the link, sir!

  6. #6 David Marjanovi?
    March 21, 2008

    So it’s a possibly separate species of water buffalo, rather than possibly a separate species of water buffalo. You see, much of the time the articles of western European languages are indeed useless, but sometimes they do have a function. :-)

  7. #7 Hai~Ren
    March 21, 2008

    Neat! I’m actually quite surprised to read that Diceros and Ceratotherium did also live outside of Africa in the past, and Dicerorhinus was once also a lot more widespread. A darn pity these finds aren’t more well-publicised.

    And I do hope that more is revealed about the extinct fauna of Central China; I was aware of Asian elephants, but the others mentioned by Jerzy are completely new to me. Hmm…. wondering whether the Père David’s deer would have been a major element of this fauna as well.

    More news from Marc van Roosmalen is wonderful; I see he’s desrcibed and named the new pygmy tapir and pygmy manatee. (!)