A New Shrew

Anyone can find another species of beetle, but it’s rare to find a new species of mammal, which are a lot harder for nature to hide. But scientists are announcing this evening that they have discovered a species of elephant shrew

Elephant shrews, which evolved in Africa some 100 million years ago and have never left the continent, are so named because of their long, flexible snouts. (Ironically, genetic analysis has recently found that they are actually more closely related to elephants than to shrews; other kinfolk include sea cows and aardvarks.) Scientists knew of 15 species, but now Galen Rathbun of the California Academy of Sciences and collaborators have found a 16th, as they report in The Journal of Zoology. It's the first new one discovered in 126 years.

Named the gray-faced sengi (Rhynochocyon udzungwensis), the new species weighs about 700 grams (1.5 pounds), more than 25 percent more than any other elephant shrew. It lives only in two high-elevation forests in the mountains of south-central Tanzania. It has a distinctive gray face and a jet-black lower rump—and shows yet again that nature still harbors secrets from nosy scientists.