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These Semi-Aquatic Mice Are as Fascinating as They Are Adorable

Artist’s depiction of Colomys lumumbai, one of two newly described species of semi-aquatic mice.

Artist’s depiction of Colomys lumumbai, one among two newly described species of semi-aquatic mice.
Illustration: Velizar Simeonovski, Discipline Museum

African rainforests are house to a number of the most pleasant and stunning species on Earth, as demonstrated by current analysis into some fairly uncommon water-loving rodents.

A examine revealed at present within the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society describes two species of semi-aquatic mice. Residing within the Congo Basin and the western elements of equatorial Africa, these mice make a dwelling by searching bugs and tadpoles whereas wading by shallow water.

The authors of the brand new examine, led by biologist Tom Giarla from Siena School in New York, did a deep dive into an enigmatic genus of mouse generally known as Colomys, which interprets to “stilt mouse” on account of their elongated toes.

Two of Giarla’s collaborators on the venture, Terry Demos and Julian Kerbis Peterhans from the Discipline Museum in Chicago, had been doing area work in Africa for many years, and so they instructed him a couple of fairly odd species of rodent that they had been catching close to streams and swamps in central Africa—a rodent generally known as Colomys goslingi.

“Based mostly on restricted earlier analysis, it purportedly had an unlimited vary, with scattered amassing data extending from Liberia all the way in which to Kenya and south to Angola,” defined Giarla in an electronic mail. “Instantly, we suspected that this one species may really comprise a number of species, as a result of few tropical rodents have such a large pure vary.”

Specimens of the stilt mice studied in the new paper. The previously known species C. goslingi is on the left, and the newly described species C. lumumbai is on the right.

Specimens of the stilt mice studied within the new paper. The beforehand identified species C. goslingi is on the left, and the newly described species C. lumumbai is on the proper.
Picture: T. C. Giarla et al., 2020

To get a greater deal with on Colomys, the scientists took a have a look at the related area work, collected bodily specimens from museum collections, and took samples of DNA. The comparative evaluation resulted within the identification of 4 distinct species belonging to Colomys, two beforehand identified and two unknown to science.

One of many identified species, C. eisentrauti, was elevated from a subspecies to a full-blown species of its personal, and its habitat was outlined as being restricted to northwest Cameroon. The opposite identified species, C. goslingi, was discovered to have a extra restricted vary than beforehand thought. The 2 newly described species have been named C. lumumbai and C. wologizi, in honor of Congolese independence chief Patrice Lumumba and Liberia’s Wologizi Mountains.

The authors additionally took this chance to check a wierd mouse specimen present in Ethiopia again in 1927. This creature was beforehand assigned to a wholly new genus and species, Nilopegamys plumbeus, and it’s in all probability extinct. The lone specimen exhibited traits just like these seen on the stilt mice, akin to waterproof fur and elongated toes, however scientists hadn’t been in a position to determine the place it match throughout the evolutionary household tree of rodents.

“Because of the curators on the Discipline Museum, the place the one specimen is housed, we received permission to pattern a chunk of dried tissue caught to its cranium,” stated Giarla. “I managed to extract DNA from that little bit of very outdated, dried tissue and sequenced a few of its DNA. I needed to do all of this work in a particular laboratory house to make sure no different DNA may contaminate it. After I constructed the evolutionary tree for all of our Colomys and Nilopegamys samples, it was clear that Nilopegamys was intently associated to Colomys.”

Actually, so intently associated that the 2 teams at the moment are thought of sister genera.

Colomys are mice, however you’d by no means mistake them for the type hiding inside your partitions. They’re bigger than home mice, with thick brown fur, lengthy whiskers, vibrant white bellies, and elongated toes that may solely be described as kangaroo-like. In addition they have unusually large brains, which can have one thing to do with their semi-aquatic life.

“Their cranium volumes are large relative to different African rodents,” defined Giarla. “We predict that is to help the mechanosensory system related to their lengthy whiskers, which they use to hunt aquatic animals like insect larvae and tadpoles. So far as I do know, no different rodent hunts like Colomys—they stroll by shallow water on their lengthy toes with their whiskers draped over the floor of the water, ready to pounce on something that strikes,” he stated, including: “They’re oddballs.”

Stilt mice are primarily present in shallow streams, however they’ve additionally been noticed in swampy areas and the shallow edges of deep rivers. They’re additionally nocturnal, spending their nights foraging for meals alongside shallow streams in dense forests, a activity made doable by their kangaroo-like toes. Past this, they’re considerably of a thriller.

“I’d like to know extra in regards to the habits and ecology of those animals,” stated Giarla.

As well as, he’d like to incorporate Colomys in some broader comparative research to get a greater deal with on the evolutionary processes that give rise to new species in tropical Africa. Giarla would additionally like to seek out proof of Nilopegamys, however he fears the animal is really extinct.

Which brings up an fascinating level having to do with conservation.

Giarla stated the brand new examine was motivated by his curiosity in mapping the unfold and evolutionary histories of small mammals dwelling within the forests of equatorial Africa, akin to rodents, opossums, and shrews—animals that don’t get a number of consideration.

“The forests of West Africa, the Congo Basin, and the East African rift system are dealing with large threats from human actions, akin to deforestation and mining,” he stated. “Some species with small ranges will doubtless go extinct quickly if extra of the forest isn’t protected.”

#SemiAquatic #Mice #Fascinating #Lovable

Author

George Dvorsky