New species of shrew-like Sengi discovered in Africa, more closely related to elephants

Now with the latest contribution to the debate on whether size matters, followers can assuredly conclude that it does not when predicting how close two different mammalian species are genetically related.

Researchers with the California Academy of Sciences recently discovered a new species of Sengi. The name Sengi is a Bantu-language-derived common name for the Macroscelides genus. The newly discovered species was called M. micus. The interesting thing about M. micus is that it has a little protruding snout not unlike the truncated elephant trunk.

The researchers noted that during the identification process that the specimens they were collecting from a remote northwestern region of Nambia were substantially different from the sengis specimens in museum collections. The scientists collected a total of 16 specimens from this region several times from 2005 to 2011.

Genetic analysis revealed that the species was, in fact, novel, as the animal’s DNA did not match that of sengi specimens already on hand. What was even more interesting though was the finding that the little furry creatures were not as closely related to other mammals of its own size and general appearance (save for the snout) as they are to elephants, sea cows, and aardvarks.

“Had our colleagues not collected those first invaluable specimens, we would never have realized that this was in fact a new species, since the differences between this and all other known species are very subtle,” said Jack Dumbacher, Academy Curator of Ornithology and Mammalogy.

The report describing the research team’s work on M. micus is published in the Journal of Mammology.