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Chinese scientists identify new species of rare flying squirrel

Chinese scientists have recently identified a new species of a flying squirrel genus, the rarest and most wanted rodent in the world.

Flying squirrel
A flying squirrel

The study, which was published on Thursday, July 18, 2019 in the open access journal ZooKeys, described the specimen unexpectedly found in the collections of the Kunming Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The genus called Biswamoyopterus is regarded as the most mysterious and rarest amongst all flying squirrels.

It was previously known to comprise two species in southern Asia: the Namdapha flying squirrel in India and the Laotian giant flying squirrel in Laos, each known from a single specimen discovered in 1981 and 2013 respectively.

Chinese researchers collected the new specimen in Mount Gaoligong in Yunnan Province, Southwest China and they initially considered it to belong to the critically endangered Namdapha flying squirrel, which was listed as one of the top 25 “most wanted” species in the world by the Global Wildlife Conservation.

However, the squirrel exhibited distinct features from the previously known species in the genus: a coloration and different anatomy of skull and teeth, according to the study.

Then, they conducted a new field survey and obtained another specimen. Finally, they added a third member to the enigmatic genus, referred to as the Mount Gaoligong flying squirrel.

“The new species was discovered in the blank area spanning 1,250 km between the isolated habitats of the two known species, which suggests that the genus is much more widespread than previously thought,’’ said the paper’s first author Li Quan with the Kunming Institute of Zoology in a statement.

Flying squirrels have a special membrane between their front and back legs that allows them to glide through the air between trees.

They use slight movements of the legs to steer, and the tail acts as a brake upon reaching their destination, according to the U.S. National Wildlife Federation. 

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