"Dwarf Lemur" by Friedrich Specht / Public Domain

Small, furry and powerful: are mouse lemurs the next big thing in genetics?

Jun 14, 2019

By Leslie Roberts

Onja is struggling tonight — her hands keep slipping off a miniature grip bar used to measure her strength. “Come on, you can do better,” coos Zeph Pendleton, who is gently supporting the mouse lemur as she tries to get a firm hold. Finally, the animal gets her fingers around the bar and gives it a tug. It records a force of 1 kilogram, impressive for a creature weighing only 41 grams. “Good,” says Pendleton, a research assistant who is working here in the rainforest at Centre ValBio, a research station at Ranomafana National Park in Madagascar.

Bathed in dim red light, Pendleton, who has come here from Stanford University in California, puts Onja through her paces. He gets her to place her hands on an iPhone modified to measure her heart’s electrical activity. He checks her length and weight — she has gained 2 grams in less than a week — then he snaps a mugshot, eventually logging the information into an ever-expanding database of one of the planet’s smallest and most abundant primates.

Finally, Pendleton nudges Onja back into a cage and covers it with a black bag to protect the nocturnal creature’s eyes while he carries her out into the bright hallway and back to the rainforest.

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