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New sengi species is related to an elephant, but small as a mouse

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This cute little mammal is related to elephants, aardvarks and manatees

It may look like a mouse, but it’s actually related to an elephant. Meet the adorable Etendeka round-eared sengi, a newly discovered species of "elephant shrew" that lives in an isolated part of Namibia.

Known formally as Macroscelides micus, this diminutive sengi sports pinkish skin underneath its hair and a long, almost trunk-like "proboscis"; it can stick its little tongue several millimeters beyond its long snout. Newly described in the Journal of Mammalogy, it's the smallest of the 19 known sengi species, stretching about 7.3 inches long and weighing less than an ounce.

The sengi are known to mate for life, and scientists study their monogamous relationships. They’re part of a clade of mammals including elephants, aardvarks and manatees called Afrotheria, a diverse group of animals which probably arose when Africa was something of an island to itself.

The species was first discovered among other elephant shrew samples collected from southern Africa and stored at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. With a rusty-toned coat, this strange animal looked different from the other sengi collected from Namibia – and a preliminary genetic analysis seemed to back that up. But was it a weird outlier or a member of a whole new species?

A team of scientists from California and Namibia headed to the Namib Desert to find out, laying traps laced with peanut butter, whole rolled oats and Marmite. They made nine reporting trips over several years, putting out a total of 50 to 200 traps per night, yielding a grand total of -- 21 sengi specimens. (The desert can be a pretty sparse place, it seems.) Of those, 15 appeared to be a new species: Macroscelides micus.

Its species name, micus, comes from the Greek mikros, meaning "small." ("Etendeka" is the name given by the Himba people of Namibia for the flat-topped mountains around where Macroscelides micus was found.)

“It also might seem remarkable that M. micus escaped detection for more than 100 years since the 1st sengis were being described [in 1968],” the study authors wrote, “but it occurs in a small and remote arid area that is difficult to access and has only recently been explored by small-mammal biologists.”

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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