This desperately cute genus of flying squirrel is so rare it’s only been recorded in the wild a handful of times since it was first described in the early 1980s. As if this elusive bunch couldn’t get more mysterious, a third member of the Biswamoyopterus genus has been now discovered – in the dusty cabinets of the Kunming Institute of Zoology (KIZ) in southwestern China.
The individual was initially assumed to belong to the "missing" Namdapha flying squirrel, a species native to India that’s not been recorded since its original description in 1981, and was already listed as one of the top 25 "most wanted" species to elude scientists in the world by the Global Wildlife Conservation.
However, on closer inspection, it turned out to be a totally new species, distinct from any of the previously known species in the genus. Reported in the journal Zoo Keys, the researchers have studied the tiny specimen’s anatomy to conclude that this was, indeed, a separate species: Biswamoyopterus gaoligongensis.
“The morphological features of B. gaoligongensis are closer to the critically endangered and missing Namdapha flying squirrel, but is still readily identifiable as a distinct species," study author Quan Li, an expert from the KIZ, explained in a statement.
Based on these exciting findings, the team set out to try and observe the species in their natural habitat, the forests of Mount Gaoligong in Yunnan Province, Southwest China. Remarkably, they were lucky enough to obtain another specimen and record observations of two other flying squirrels.
"The new species was discovered in the 'blank area' spanning 1,250 kilometers between the isolated habitats of the two known species, which suggests that the genus is much more widespread than previously thought. There is still hope for new Biswamoyopterus populations to be discovered in between or right next to the already known localities," Li added.
The flying squirrel is nocturnal and likes to live in low-altitude forests near rivers. Other than that, we know amazingly little about this species. We do know, however, that it’s in a lot of trouble. The researchers note that the creatures live in close proximity to nearby human settlements and are at risk of losing their habitat. Given the scarcity of this genus as a whole, it doesn’t bode well for this little guy.
"There is an urgent need to study the ecology, distribution, and conservation status of this rare and very beautiful genus," concluded Li.