Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 27th, 2009
In the inner precincts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, along a corridor that could easily accommodate a string of bowling alleys, Kristofer M. Helgen, curator of mammals, pulled open one of the thousands of metal cabinets stacked against the walls and gestured grandly at the contents. Inside was a tray of a dozen dried rodents, chestnut-furred and with tails neatly extended, like campfire wieners on sticks. He opened other drawers, revealing small, fox-faced bats, and a pair of giant bats with fierce, bicuspid canines, and a weasel-sized mammal with a pendulous snout, and a bat whose translucent, mottled wings looked like parachutes for G. I. Joe.
The animals came from New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Kenya, Sulawesi, but they all had one trait in common: they were new to science, some of them so new they had yet to be named. And the Smithsonian specimens are just part of a much wider trend. Fabio Röhe of the Bronx Zoo’s Wildlife Conservation Society and his colleagues just announced the discovery of a new monkey in the Brazilian Amazon, a petite saddleback tamarin with a foot-long tail and a pelt of rust, gray and dappled gold, while other scientists with the conservation group have lately detected new primate species in Bolivia, India and Tanzania.
Since the last summary of the world’s mammals was published in 2005, tallying the roughly 5,400 mammalian species then known, Dr. Helgen said, an astounding 400 or so new species have been added to the list. “Most people don’t realize this,” he said, “but we are smack-dab in the middle of the age of discovery for mammals.”
The Anomalist points to an important piece that Cryptomundo readers may wish to read this to its end, here: “New Creatures in an Age of Extinctions,” by Natalie Angier of The New York Times, July 26, 2009.