New species of sengi

What is a sengi? Sengis are also known as elephant shrews. Found exclusively in Africa, elephant shrews are small, terrestrial mammals found in grasslands and forests. The sengi's diet consists of insects and other terrestrial invertebrates. Sengis have long thin legs, long tails and a long flexible snout that they use to sniff out their prey. Just as the Flying Lemur's name has proven unexpectedly appropriate as new DNA evidence has shown they are the closest cousins to the primates, so too is the sengi's other common name. Recent comparative genetic studies suggest that sengis are members of a very old mammalian superorder, the Afrotheria. As the name suggests the Afrotheria originated in Africa and the group consists of a strange assemblage of mammalian orders including aardvarks, golden moles, sea cows and manatees, hyraxes, tenrecs, elephants and elephant shrews. Just as the Flying Lemur neither truly flies nor is truly a lemur, elephant shrews are neither elephants or shrews. However, their unexpected place in the Afrotheria along with the elephants does give some truth to the sengi's other common name, the elephant shrew.

Sengis belong to the order Macroscelidea and there are 15 recognized species, OK, make that 16. The Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania are a major center of biodiversity. Compared to other animal groups like insects or marine invertebrates there are few recent cases of terrestrial vertebrates new to science. However, the Udzungwa Mountains have seen an explosion of new species. Several amphibians, reptiles, a partridge, a shrew and even a new species of monkey have been described from the Udzungwa Mountains in recent years. Add to that list a new species of sengi. Francesco Rovero of the Trento Museum of Natural Science in Trento, Italy and colleagues describe a large forest sengi from the Udzungwa Mountains. This new snegi is called the Grey-faced Sengi (Rhynchocyon udzungwensis) and at about 1.5 lbs (710 g) it is the largest sengi species. The Grey-faced Sengi was found in moist montane forests and bamboo thickets where they forage for insects and build nests of loose leaves at the base of trees. This new member of the sengi clan shows that the Udzungwa Mountains are an evolutionary hotspot deserving of the highest conservation priority.

To see a photo of this new species taken with a laser triggered camera-trap see Discovery News and read the original paper in the Journal of Zoology.