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New Monkey Discovered!

September 13th, 2012

"Lesula" monkey. Photo credit: Flickr user teresehart via Creative Commons

Meet the newest monkey species in the world … the Lesula!

They were discovered deep in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in one of the least explored forests on earth (there doesn’t seem to be too many of those places left!).

The distinctive looking monkey wasn’t a big deal for the local school director’s daughter, Georgette, who had sort of adopted one as a baby after its mother was reportedly killed. The monkeys were familiar to local hunters and referred to as lesula.

But a team of scientists doing research there, who by luck saw Georgette’s monkey, thought it might be like no other.

From there it took five years to confirm that it was indeed a new species.

Why so long?

Just looking different isn’t enough. (Did we mention the males also have a blue butt?!)

Photo credit: Gilbert Paluku on plosone.org via Creative Commons

So how’d they figure it out?

The lead scientist claiming the lesula as a new monkey species, Dr. John Hart, and his team, recorded its calls. They analyzed its behavior in the wild (not so easy because it’s shy). They studied ones that had died which allowed them to take measurements and study its genetic code (DNA). (You can click on this link to be taken to NeoK12’s website   to see a video that explains genetics in a kid-friendly way).

Dr. Hart and his team thought the lesulas might be part of the owl faced monkey species. They discovered that while the two had the same ancestor, they evolved into different species over the past couple million years. Some rivers eventually separated their habitats and the two developed differently.

The monkeys’ more official scientific name now is  Cercopithecus lomamiensis  (don’t worry, we can’t pronounce it either). Dr. Hart’s findings were announced yesterday in PLOS ONE  (Public Library of Science One).

So now what? Dr. Hart is trying to protect these monkeys by hoping to turn their habitat into a national park. Kate Detwiler, a scientist involved in the discovery, said, “We are very lucky to have found the lesula while there is still time to save it.”

It’s also possible there are even more new species in there to be discovered.

In a world where endangered species dominate the headlines, the first new monkey species announced in 28 years, with possibly more to come, is welcome news.

HTE wrote a story involving elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year. To read that piece, click here .

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