for National Geographic News
Three new species of lemur in the African island nation of Madagascar have been discovered (Madagascar map and facts).
All three are mouse lemurs and are as tiny as their name implies. The palm-size creatures are primatesthe group that includes apes and humans.
Researchers first located the three new mouse lemurs in Madagascar's eastern rain forests in 2001.
It took several more years to gather sufficient data and complete the genetic analysis that confirms the three as distinct species.
The new lemurs are described and assigned their scientific names in a paper appearing in the current issue of the International Journal of Primatology.
Study co-author Mireya Mayor, of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, says official names were chosen to honor prominent and inspiring figures in the world of primate conservation. (See a narrated slide show of Mayor with lemurs.)
The species Microcebus mittermeieri, for example, is named for primatologist and Conservation International president Russell Mittermeier, "for his commitment and dedication to protecting wildlife and forest habitat all over the world."
The other newfound species were named Microcebus simmonsi, after Lee Simmons, director of the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska (the study's lead author, Edward Louis, works for the zoo), and Microcebus jollyae, for Alison Jolly, a lemur researcher at Princeton University in New Jersey.
Lemurs and More Lemurs
Small, shy, and active only at night, mouse lemurs are difficult to study and have long been considered one of the least well known primate groups.
Until the late 1970s biologists had thought only two species of mouse lemur lived in Madagascara dry forest lemur in the west and its rain forest-dwelling cousin in the east.
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