Scientists have found the jumbo shrimp of the primate world: a new bushbaby species best described as a “giant dwarf.” The researchers described the new bushbaby in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
Bushbabies, also known as galagos, are nocturnal, delightfully weird little primates that live in the forests of Africa. They’ve got huge ears, massive eyes, and long, bony fingers, and they communicate via eerie, infant-like screams in the night (hence the name).
It’s these shrill cries that help scientists track them down. Like birds, each species has its own distinctive call. So when scientists in Angola’s Kumbira Forest heard the characteristic crescendo call used by tiny Galagoides thomasi and Gd. demidovii, they expected the call’s creator to be tiny, too. Instead, they found a whopper.
“We were struck by its remarkably large size,” lead author Magdalena Svensson, of Oxford Brookes University, said in a statement. “Until now call types have been the most reliable way to distinguish galago species, and to find one that did not match what we expected was very exciting.”
Now, “remarkably large” for a dwarf galago is still pretty petite; the adults Svensson and her colleagues found averaged between 6 and 8 inches long from head to rear. But compared to their minuscule cousins, the new animals were massive.
Modern scientists typically rely on DNA testing to determine if a newly discovered animal represents a new species or not. In the case of the giant dwarf bushbaby, the researchers didn’t have to. The evidence was right in front of them.
Co-author Anna Nekaris, also of Oxford Brookes, said the giant dwarf’s big body and crescendo call represent “really a whole new kind of bushbaby.”
“We have been seeing this emerging diversity in Madagascar over the last two decades,” she said in the statement, “yet the nocturnal species of Africa and Asia remain still comparatively unexplored, and this giant dwarf galago is just the tip of the iceberg in new discoveries."
All images courtesy of Elena Bersacola