New Lemur Has Big Feet, Long Tongue

Although only just discovered, the lemur is probably endangered, or even critically endangered, due to its very restricted range.

Primatologists believe they have discovered a new species of lemur in the dry forests of Madagascar, Conservation International and BBC's Natural History Unit announced today.

(Credit for Images: Conservation International, Russell Mittermeier)

The lemur sports a letter "Y"-shaped stripe on the top of its body and has big feet and a long tongue. The "Y," called a fork by scientists, means that it is a fork-marked lemur. There are now four species of this type of lemur, genus Phaner, and this one is suspected to be the fifth.

Primate expert Russell Mittermeier, who is president of Conservation International, first spotted the animal in 1995 during an expedition to Daraina, a protected area in the northeast of Madagascar.

"I went to this area for the first time to see the spectacular Tattersall's sifaka [Propithecus tattersali], a large diurnal species that itself had just been described in 1988," Mittermeier said during the announcement. "I was surprised to see a fork-marked lemur there, since this animal had not yet been recorded from the region. I immediately knew that it was likely a new species to science, but didn't have the time to follow up until now."

He and a team recently returned to the site. There they spotted the distinctive fork-marked lemur again. Actually they heard the lemur first, since this species seems to be quite vocal just after sunset. The calling lemur scampered through the forest, resulting in a chase by torchlight, but one of the trackers managed to catch it after a clean shot from a tranquilizer gun.

After permitting the lemur - an adult male - to rest overnight, the scientists examined him. That's when they made the "new species" determination, and found out the lemur is about the same size as a squirrel. They microchipped him and sent him back into the forest.

"This is yet another remarkable discovery from the island of Madagascar, the world's highest priority biodiversity hotspot and one of the most extraordinary places in our planet," Mittermeier said. "It is particularly remarkable that we continue to find new species of lemurs and many other plants and animals in this heavily impacted country, which has already lost 90 percent or more of its original vegetation."

He added that the lemur is probably endangered, or even critically endangered, due to its very restricted range.

a black, Y-shaped line that starts above each eye and joins together as a single line on the top of the head, creating the fork that gives these animals their common name;

large hands and feet for gripping onto trees;

a loud, high-pitched night-time call which helped the team track it down;

an unusual head-bobbing behavior that shows up in the beam of the flashlight at night and is unique to this species;

a diet consisting of a high proportion of gumexuded by trees and flower nectar;

a long tongue for slurping up nectar and recumbent incisors, which form a toothcomb specialized as a scraping tool to bite into the bark.