Multiple new species of large, living mammal (part III)

i-74ef95923c9524a40adf52e04b0078cf-Grey saki monkey Pithecia  (irrorata)sp.nov.JPG

Yet more on the multiple new Amazonian mammals that have been discovered or documented by Marc van Roosmalen. If you haven't already done so, please read part I and part II. Here in part III we're going to look at the monkeys, as Marc has continued to discover various forms that don't match any documented species...

They include a new grey saki (pictured at left: it is larger with longer fur and a less pronounced face than the only similar species, Pithecia irrorata), a new black saki (Chiropotes), and several new spider monkeys, including the Rio Purús black spider monkey, Silvery bellied spider monkey, Upper Xingú white-cheeked spider monkey and Long-limbed black spider monkey. The latter species, notable for its large jaws and canines, was first mentioned in Cruz Lima's 1945 Mammals of Amazonia but has since gone unstudied and been taxonomically neglected (a dangerous thing when populations are small: Daugherty et al. 1990). The spider monkeys are mostly distinguished from recognised taxa on the basis of differences in fur and skin pigmentation, and they also exhibit distinct ranges and habitats. Authors differ in whether they regard the different spider monkey taxa as species or subspecies, on which read on...

i-0f14dabc7f340ed722dcbf2d4409bc8d-Orange woolly monkey Lagothrix sp.JPG

Three new woolly monkeys (Lagothrix) are also among the potential new species. The first, the Orange woolly monkey [depicted in adjacent image], has already been both depicted in the literature (a picture of one is included in, again, Cruz Lima's 1945 Mammals of Amazonia) and deposited within a museum collection (Marc found one, collected in 1935, in the collection of the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi in Pará). The second, the Fair-haired woolly monkey [depicted below at left], has also been recorded before, but individuals have been assumed to be unusually light-coloured variants of the Common or Humboldt's woolly monkey L. lagothricha. Marc's new data indicates that this is in fact a good species with a unique pigmentation (and not just restricted to the body pelage, but referring also to skin colour and facial hair). Phylogenetic analysis of DNA recovered from dung has shown that it is more closely related to Poeppig's woolly monkey L. poeppigii [itself regarded by some workers as a subspecies of L. lagothricha rather than as a species] than to the Common woolly monkey, which is interesting as Poeppig's woolly monkey is dark brown.

The third possible new species is an entirely black member of the genus that differs in social structure, habitat choice and other behavioural features from other woolly monkey species. As with the dwarf tapir and some of the other new taxa that are under investigation, the black woolly monkey is hypothesised to be an old endemic of the east side of the Aripuanã River: when, more recently, this area was invaded by Geoffroy's woolly monkey L. cana, the two species had already diverged enough to prevent inbreeding and they now occur sympatrically.

i-7f438888a78e3af93eac01821544d296-Fair woolly monkey Lagothrix sp. nov.jpg

Note that recent taxonomic revisions have - as with so many primate genera - raised the number of recognised woolly monkey species. The conventional view (e.g., Emmons 1997, Nowak 1999, Janson 2001) has been that Lagothrix includes only the Common or Humboldt's woolly monkey L. lagothricha and the Yellow-tailed woolly monkey L. flavicauda. The latter species is very poorly known, and was thought extinct until its rediscovery in 1974 (Mittermeier et al. 1975). Recent revisions have led to a revival of the old idea (first mooted by Oldfield Thomas in 1927) that the Yellow-tailed woolly monkey deserves its own genus, Oreonax (Groves 2001, DeLuycker 2007). Meanwhile, Lagothrix proper includes not only L. lagothricha, but also Geoffroy's or the Grey woolly monkey L. cana, Colombian woolly monkey L. lugens and Poeppig's woolly monkey L. poeppigii.

i-184eba67a9b9f91714ef1caa450c6f49-Ateles longimembris sp.nov.JPG

As with most cases where former subspecies have been raised to species rank, not all workers within the field agree with the idea that the taxa concerned really warrant species-level distinction. The dirty little secret of biology is that - given the fact of evolution - species are merely arbitrarily designated segments of phylogenetic lineages. If a population differs enough from others (in either, or both, morphology or/and genetics) to warrant recognition, some argue that it should be a 'species' (though I'm not prepared to go as far as endorsing the LITU* concept). We should at least be consistent, and give species status to those new taxa that differ from other species as much as do long-recognised species. Furthermore - at the risk of treading on very dangerous ground - I will note that it is always easier to drum up media interest and political will when species are involved, and the same is not the case when the taxa in question are mere subspecies. Anyway, if Marc's interpretation of the data is correct, Lagothrix is substantially more diverse than presently recognised, and that applies even if some of these new animals are regarded as subspecies [adjacent image shows Long-limbed black spider monkey].

* Least Inclusive Taxonomic Unit

i-dea2b42adb3b4c23371fe76fccb28509-MvR page 2.jpg

This isn't it among the monkeys. As you can see on the website, Marc also seems to have new tamarins, an additional saki, new titi monkeys, a new squirrel monkey and a new uacari. I won't cover all of these here, but perhaps the most interesting story is that behind a tamarin that Marc is calling Cruz Lima's saddleback tamarin. First illustrated by Emílio Goeldi in 1907 for an unpublished manuscript, it was (like the Long-limbed black spider monkey and Orange woolly monkey) later depicted in Cruz Lima's Mammals of Amazonia, published in 1945, and regarded as a juvenile Weddell's saddleback tamarin Saguinus fuscicollis weddelli. Hershkovitz (1977) later named it as a distinct subspecies. In 2002, Tomas van Roosmalen made the first recorded observation of a wild group of this kind of tamarin. Based on morphological characters and other details, Marc thinks that it is a distinct species, most closely related to Weddell's saddleback tamarin.

And more to come in part IV.

Refs - -

Daugherty, C. H., Cree, A., Hay, J. M. & Thompson, M. B. 1990. Neglected taxonomy and continuing extinctions of tuatara (Sphenodon). Nature 347, 177-179.

DeLuycker, A. M. 2007. Notes on the Yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda) and its status in the protected forest of Alto Mayo, northern Peru. Primate Conservation 22 (free pdf here).

Emmons, L. H. 1999. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide (Second Edition). University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London.

Groves, C. P. 2001. Primate Taxonomy. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.

Hershkovitz, P. 1977. Living New World Monkeys (Platyrrhini): With an Introduction to Primates, Vol. 1. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Janson, C. H. 2001. Capuchin-like monkeys. In Macdonald, D. (ed) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, pp. 344-353.

Mittermeier, R. A., de Macedo Ruiz, H. & Luscombe, A. 1975. A woolly monkey rediscovered in Peru. Oryx 13 (1), 41-46.

Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition (two volumes). The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.


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Once I had seen in one popular book the mention about the discovery of dwarf gorilla - only once in one book ("Life of animals" by Igor Akimushkin). Is it true, or not?

By Pavel I. Volkov (not verified) on 01 Jun 2007 #permalink

The so-called Pygmy gorilla Pseudogorilla mayema - later P. ellioti - has long been a source of debate among cryptozoologists and primatologists and is not currently regarded as valid (the type specimens were juveniles, and not pygmy adults of a form intermediate between chimps and gorillas, as had been proposed earlier). I regret that I don't have time to provide more discussion (perhaps I will in future), but it is discussed at length in...

Groves, C. P. 1985. The case of the pygmy gorilla: a cautionary tale for cryptozoology. Cryptozoology 4, 37-44.

Heuvelmans, B. 1995. On the Track of Unknown Animals. Kegan Paul International, London.

Meder & Groves (2005) wrote an excellent article on gorilla taxonomy which is available online here.

The "Economist" magazine recently -- I think it was an issue about two weeks ago (so ca. 20 May 2007) had an editorial about species splitting. It noted that zoologists are naming lots of new species these days, noted that in some cases it wasn't obvious why they should be called species instead of subspecies, heavily hinted that it was a ploy to interest the media in conservation issues, andwarned that this could lead to "inflation," to "debasing the coinage" of species. (Well, at least writers for the "Economist" are familiar with ECONOMIC concepts, so we can't blame them for bringing in economic analogies when they discuss other things!)
To which I have three remarks (Please delete, Darren, if you think I am giving too much space to my own not-strictly-zoological opinions):
1. I used to read the "E" as a weekly newsmagazine because it was written in better prose than "Time" and I felt it was good for me as an American to get some news from a non-American source.
2. I gave up in disgust because it seemed to me that it had moved from being intelligently pro-free-market in its editorial line to being fanatically and unthinkingly pro-free-market.
3. And the editorial (or article-- I don't remember where in the mag it was) would have been better if it had recognized that zoologists themselves worry about the objectivity of species, and that efforts have been made to give disciplined criteria (e.g. percentage differences in DNA sequences, or estimated divergence times) of specieshood: as it stands, it's just an anti-conservationist rant.

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 02 Jun 2007 #permalink

Yes, The Economist has lost many of its ancestral features in recent years, a common adaptation to a choice of parasitic existence. One might reasonably suppose that the opportunity for an anti-conservationist rant was the true reason behind noticing species promotion at all. It doesn't seem to run editorials lamenting how journalists who parrot reactionary-party talking points debase the coinage of political discourse.

(Note that I said "parrot": this is, after all, a zoology blog.)

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 04 Jun 2007 #permalink

Marc van Roosmalen, who has indeed discovered at least a dozen new species in Amazonia has been thrown in jail. The Brazillian goverment accused the world renowned biologist of stealing monkeys, orphans he rescued and provided shelter for in his home near Manaus, and has sentenced him to 14 years in prison. For Marc, who is 60 now, 14 years can be considered equivalent to life long. Moreover jails in Brazil can be very dangerous. Marc has already witnessed a fellow prisoner(who was also innocent) being beaten to death.
Apart from his extra ordinary scientific accomplishments, Marc van Roosmalen has always been an uncompromising activist for the protection of the Amazone and that is probably what got him in jail.

Marc van Roosmalen needs and deserves our support. Please stay tuned and spread the word. For the latest news and to declare your support, you can go to

Thank you, Shola Albin and Martijn van Roosmalen

Thank you Shola and Martijn: I am of course aware of what has happened within recent weeks. I have been silent for a reason - Marc told me personally that, pending on-going legal developments, he wanted people to stay quiet on the subject for the time being. Has this has now changed? Please advise.

PS - the url you provide doesn't work.

Thank you Darren: Sorry about the mistake. The help site is At this time everything is on hold in order not to interfere with the legal developments, however it seems good to raise as much awareness as possible, in case action is necessary later.

Marc has been put in a cell by himself in another location now, so he's not in immediate danger anymore, however he can be transferred back at any time.

Of course we weren't aware that you knew about Marc's situation...