New Species of Shrew Found on Mount Gorongosa!

December 1, 2013

A group of scientists from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago set out on an expedition to Mount Gorongosa in 2011 and they didn’t know what they might find. What they found was a new species of shrew that has never been described by science. In fact, this shrew made up nearly half of the small mammals captured on this trip to Mount Gorongosa. The scientists compared their samples with specimens from other parts of Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe to look for genetic and physical differences between this shrew and other species across Southern Africa.

 

Scientist examining specimens collected on Mount Gorongosa. Photo by Federico Pardo (The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago)

 

The scientists found that the shrew populations in Mozambique and the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe are a distinct species within Myosorex, the African genus  of burrowing shrews. The new species was named Myosorex meesteri or Meester’s burrowing shrew. Genetic and physical differences from the other Myosorex species in Southern Africa were strong enough to declare this a new species, which they describe in the 2013 paper published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, by Peter John Taylor, Teresa Catherine Kearney, Julian Kerbis Peterhans, Roderick Baxter, and Sandi Willows-Munro.

 

New shrew species found on Mount Gorongosa (Myosorex meesteri). Photo by Julian Kerbis Peterhans (Roosevelt University and The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago)

 

The scientists estimate that Myosorex meesteri evolved as a separate species about 1.8 million years ago. Some of the physical differences that make this shrew unique are its smaller skull size and a “tiny fourth upper unicuspid tooth, bordered by teeth that are touching or almost touching”. On Mount Gorongosa, this shrew was found in moist montane forest and alpine meadows, while on the Inyanga Mountains of Eastern Zimbabwe, they were found in moist grasslands but never in forest.

 

New shrew species found on Mount Gorongosa (Myosorex meesteri). Photo by Julian Kerbis Peterhans (Roosevelt University and The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago)

 

This exciting discovery in Gorongosa is only the beginning of what could be found in the diverse and largely unexplored Gorongosa region. The 2013 expedition by scientists to the Cheringoma Plateau uncovered at least 8 species new to science and future scientific expeditions hold even more potential for discovery.

 

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