Shadows of menageries past

By Razib Khan | April 14, 2010 11:08 am

100413162914-largeI’m still a sucker for stories like this, Only Known Living Population of Rare Dwarf Lemur Discovered:

Researchers have discovered the world’s only known living population of Sibree’s Dwarf Lemur, a rare lemur known only in eastern Madagascar. The discovery of approximately a thousand of these lemurs was made by Mitchell Irwin, a Research Associate at McGill University, and colleagues from the German Primate Centre in Göttingen Germany; the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar; and the University of Massachusetts.

The species was first discovered in Madagascar in 1896, but this tiny, nocturnal dwarf lemur was never studied throughout the 20th century. Following the destruction of its only known rainforest habitat, scientists had no idea whether the species still existed in the wild — or even whether it was a distinct species….

Living today is much more awesome than the 19th century overall, but, we’ve mapped the whole world, and have a good sense of all the large animals (at least the upper bound, unfortunately the number seems to be dropping). Call me mammal-centric, but I feel that we have tapped out most of the zoological wonder of our planet. Is it too much to say that the terrestrial domain now involves mostly the counting of beetles? (I exaggerate!) But sometimes there’s a lemur in Madagascar or a rare ungulate in Vietnam, and we get a sense of the wonder which once was (along with all the -isms which we now abhor!). Could you imagine the blog posts that Carl Zimmer or Ed Yong could have written about the discovery of the Platypus? Actually, they’d probably end up narrating a special on the National Geographic Channel….

Here’s the original paper: MtDNA and nDNA corroborate existence of sympatric dwarf lemur species at Tsinjoarivo, eastern Madagascar.

Credit: Image courtesy of McGill University


Comments (6)

Links to this Post

  1. Friday SNPpets | The OpenHelix Blog | April 16, 2010
  1. Eric Johnson

    Check this out:

    Some of those are elevations to species status of already-known taxa. But I’m pretty sure most aren’t. Fair number of new mammals and birds, certainly more than one hears about in the news. But yeah, not a lot.

    There are also a lot of “lost” birds that have been detected only two or three times, sometimes at intervals of 50-80 years or whatever.

    This possibly-new, possibly-rediscovered monkey is pretty cool. The old description that it may or may not correspond to, was by a guy who died in 1810:

    “The Blond Capuchin (Cebus queirozi) was discovered near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2006. Some suspect that rather than a new species, however, it is a rediscovery of a monkey named Simia flavia, known only from a drawing by German taxonomist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber.”

    Pretty funny that it was hiding out near the gigantic city of Rio.

  2. Bob Carlson

    Call me mammal-centric, but I feel that we have tapped out most of the zoological wonder of our planet.

    Depends what you mean by tapped. Maybe most (2/3?) of the insects have been collected, but many haven’t been described, and the percentage of described species for which we have knowledge of the habits is extremely small. Just how many remarkable accounts like this one will we ever have an inkling of?

  3. bioIgnoramus

    Ah, Bob, Attenborough is certainly the chap for what we used to call “Nature Studies”.

  4. Why do invertebrates get no love? I for one liked this recent discovery.

  5. Mammaled out, maybe, but not animal’d out. Take a dive and see:


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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