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SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Two Bay Area scientists are set to announce the discovery of a groundbreaking mammal, found by accident. It’s related to elephants and can fit in the palm of your hand.
At first glance, it looks like a rat, with a long tail and small furry body. But it has a long nose.
“They are actually closer related to elephants than they are to mice,” said Dr. Galen Rathbun, fellow and research associate at the California Academy of Sciences.
Its official name: macroscelides micus.
“Think about crossing a miniature antelope and an anteater,” Rathbun said.
It’s a new species of elephant shrew.
“For some groups of organisms, they are constantly describing new species but for mammals its rare,” said Dr. Jack Dumbacher, curator of ornithology and mammalogy at the academy.
The world may never have known about this little guy if Rathburn didn’t stumble over it, literally. He was walking through the desert in Namibia when he first saw one.
“I noticed that there were some differences that didn’t make sense, so I came to Jack for genetics,” Galen said.
Dumbacher recalled, “When we sequenced the DNA and looked at them a little more closely, we said this thing is really different.”
How different? The creatures eat termites and insects and have a long nose, like little anteaters. They are also monogamous which is unusual, the scientists said.
When giving birth, the species gives birth to twins or triplets. They are fully furred and ready to run.
And his home looks like the surface of Mars. On display at the California Academy of Sciences, he is happy to blend in, at least for now.
The new mammal will be officially unveiled on Thursday in the Journal of Mammology. Rathbun and Dumbacher will go back to Namibia in September to study its habitat and how they are able to survive in such harsh conditions.