A dapper-looking mustachioed monkey has been newly described from Eastern Africa. The new species was identified when researchers realized that the wide-ranging patas monkey is not one, but two species.
Now known as the Blue Nile patas monkey (Erythrocebus poliophaeus), and described in Primate Conservation, the animal has an impressive handlebar tash that would not look out of place on a leather-clad biker. A largely terrestrial species found in the grasslands and swamps of Africa, the monkeys can pick up some impressive speed, able to clock 55 kilometers (34 miles) per hour, making them the fastest ground-dwelling monkey in the world.
“What is particularly interesting here is that this distinctive monkey was first described 150 years ago, but in 1927 it was incorrectly folded into just a single species of patas monkey,” said Anthony Rylands, Global Wildlife Conservation’s primate conservation director.
Patas monkeys are known to have a wide range, from The Gambia on the Atlantic coast across wide swathes of sub-Saharan Africa to Ethiopia in the east. It has often been suggested that the species should be broken up into at least four sub-species, but the new study takes this one step further, proposing that those monkeys on the far eastern edge of the range should, in fact, be their own species.
The patterns on the monkeys vary over these massive distances. The new species has a black nose and face, compared to a more common white visage, and also lacks a characteristic dark band that usually appears between the monkey's ears and eyes.
Not only this, but the researchers also think that the new species is actually reproductively isolated from the rest of the patas monkey’s range. They think that the vast swamp found in South Sudan known as the Sudd, which is one of the world’s largest wetlands, acts as an effective barrier that the primates cannot cross.
Interestingly, when the monkey was first discovered back in 1862, scientists described the bewhiskered creature as its own species. This distinction was dropped, however, when in 1927 the German zoologist Ernst Schwarz reviewed the taxonomic status of the entire primate group and lumped both species of patas monkey into just one.
“Refining the taxonomy of the patas monkey was particularly rewarding for two main reasons,” explained Spartaco Gippoliti, who described the new species. “The basic concept of the genus Erythrocebus was unchanged for about 100 years now, and the discovery of a distinct species living in eastern Sudan and western Ethiopia will put in the spotlight a little-known region of Africa, offering opportunities for new conservation projects in the area.”