California scientists discover mouse-like mammal related to elephants

Jun 28, 2014

By Laura Zuckerman

 

A new mammal discovered in the remote desert of western Africa resembles a long-nosed mouse in appearance but is more closely related genetically to elephants, a California scientist who helped identify the tiny creature said on Thursday.

The new species of elephant shrew, given the scientific name Macroscelides micus, inhabits an ancient volcanic formation in Namibia and sports red fur that helps it blend in with the color of its rocky surroundings, said John Dumbacher, one of a team of biologists behind the discovery.

Genetic testing of the creature – which weighs up to an ounce (28 grams) and measures 7.5 inches (19 cm) in length, including its tail – revealed its DNA to be more akin to much larger mammals.

“It turns out this thing that looks and acts like shrews that evolved in Africa is more closely related to elephants,” said Dumbacher, a curator of birds and mammals at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

The findings, published in the Journal of Mammalogy, floored scientists, who said the only visible link between an African elephant and the diminutive shrew is its trunk-like nose.

5 comments on “California scientists discover mouse-like mammal related to elephants

  • @OP- A new mammal discovered in the remote desert of western Africa resembles a long-nosed mouse in appearance but is more closely related genetically to elephants,

    In evolutionary changes, increases in body size seem to take many more generations in a population than scaling down to a smaller size.

    http://phys.org/news/2012-01-mouse-elephant-million.html
    Large evolutionary changes in body size take a very long time. A mouse-to-elephant size change would take at least 24 million generations based on the maximum speed of evolution in the fossil record, according to the work of Alistair Evans and co-authors. Becoming smaller can happen much faster than becoming bigger: the evolution of pygmy elephants took 10 times fewer generations than the equivalent sheep-to-elephant size change.

    Transformations can happen much faster in animals that live in the water. An increase from rabbit-sized to elephant-sized would take at least five million generations, but the equivalent change in whales takes half as many generations.



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