Thursday, March 15, 2007

The world gets a new cat

It is very rare to find new species of living mammals and rarer still a top predator like a big cat, but in the news this morning it was reported that clouded leopards from Borneo and Sumatra are genetically distinct enough from their mainland cousins to be considered a separate species. Although this is yet to be published in a scientific journal (where a formal name will be attached to it) there is a video!

This is yet another example of how technology has changed the way we recognise species. It was DNA that told us the clouded leopard should be split in two, but now that has happened we are noticing subtle differences between the 'halves.' For example the new species has smaller 'clouds' and different patterns on the pelage that gives these cats their name. The Borneo/Sumatra species also has the largest canines of any big cat.

Andrew Kitchener of the National Museums of Scotland is quoted as saying "it's incredible that no-one has ever noticed these differences." Indeed, I looked up the clouded leopard in Kitchener's 1991 book The Natural History of the WIld Cats, where he states:

"The clouded leopard is an animal of tropical forests , being found at altitudes of up to 2,500 metres. In Borneo, however, it was found to be mostly terrestrial."

Back then it was only considered as a subspecies under the name diardi, and perhaps the recent divergence date (of one million years) is enough to forgive us for not noticing sooner. In any case this is a welcome new addition to our "entangled bank" and another neat example of evolution in action.


Sarda Sahney said...

Brilliant topic, beautiful pics.

Malacoda said...

Oh yeah? Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

About Me

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Currently I am founding member, president elect and entire membership of SWEMP (the Society of Wonky-Eyed Macroevolutionary Palaeobiologists). In my spare time I get paid to do research on very dead organisms and think about the really big questions in life, such as: What is the ultimate nature of reality? Why is there no room for free will in science? and What are the implications of having a wardrobe that consists entirely of hotpants?