Hold onto your hats, the zoology world hasn’t finished for the holidays just yet. Instead, intrepid researchers have been out and about in the forests of Vietnam and northern Sumatra and have discovered two new species of downright adorable furry hedgehogs.
While their prickly cousins might be more well known, furry hedgehogs, or gymnures, are small mammals that are not rodents, but are members of the hedgehog family Erinaceidae. They somewhat resemble shrews, with soft brown fur and pointy snouts. They are active during the day and the night, and eat an omnivorous diet of insects and fruits.
The two new species are endemic to Vietnam and the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, which consists of an endangered tropical rainforest. The species were identified in part based on 232 physical specimens, and 85 tissue samples from museum collections of specimens that had remained in drawers in the Smithsonian and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia, for 84 and 62 years respectively, before they were looked at for identification purposes.
“We were only able to identify these new hedgehogs thanks to museum staff that curated these specimens across countless decades and their original field collectors,” said Arlo Hinckley, the study’s lead author and a Margarita Salas Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Museum of Natural History and University of Seville, in a statement. “By applying modern genomic techniques like we did many years after these hedgehogs were first collected, the next generation will be able to identify even more new species.”
The two new species are named Hylomys vorax and H. macarong. H. macarong was named after a Vietnamese word for vampire, because the males possess long fang-like teeth. A new species of fanged frog was also found recently in Indonesia.
“Based on the lifestyles of their close relatives and field observations, these hedgehogs likely nest in hollows and take cover while foraging among tree roots, fallen logs, rocks, grassy areas, undergrowth and leaf litter,” Hinckley said. “But, because they’re so understudied, we are limited to speculate about the details of their natural history.”
The second species, Hylomys vorax, is smaller than H. macarong at only 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) long to the other's 14 centimeters (5.5 inches), with a completely black tail. It is found only on the slopes of Mount Leuser in Northern Sumatra. Despite their small and fuzzy appearance, the new species are known to be keen hunters.
“They were voracious beasts often devouring the whole bait before springing the trap. Ham rind, coconut, meat, and walnuts were eaten. One shrew partially devoured the chicken head bait of a steel trap before getting caught in a nearby Schuyler trap baited with ham rind,” wrote mammalogist Frederick Ulmer, who collected the specimens that led to the species' description on an expedition to Sumatra in 1939.
The other three species were thought to be subspecies closely related to Hylomys suillus, but after analysis of multiple specimens in museums, as well as field observations, have been elevated to their own species named H. dorsalis, H. maxi and H. peguensis, respectively.
“It might be surprising for people to hear that there are still undiscovered mammals out there,” said Melissa Hawkins, the National Museum of Natural History's curator of mammals. “But there is a lot we don’t know – especially the smaller nocturnal animals that can be difficult to tell apart from one another.”
The study is published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.