The Heteromyidae family also includes kangaroo rats, like this one. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Researchers at the City College of New York believe they have found a new species of spiny pocket mouse, dubbed Heteromys catopterius. Taking its name from a Greek word that roughly means a "height that commands a view," the small mouse finds its home high in Venezuela's coastal range.View & Vote: The Most Incredible Species Discovered in 2009
Though the Trinidad spiny pocket mouse, Heteromys anomalus—a relative of the new species— is common throughout the Caribbean, Columbia, and Venezuela, H. catopterius occupies a much smaller range, between 350 to 2,450 meters in the Cordillera de la Costa of Venezuela. Dr. Robert P. Anderson, who led the team that discovered the mouse, explained that "most people are surprised to learn that new species of mammals are still being discovered." He added that:
Sometimes they are discovered based on genetic work, but this is a case where anatomical studies made it clear a species existed that had never been recognized by biologists before.
Image credit: Eliécer E. Gutiérrez
The significant morphological differences in H. catopterius—also being called the overlook spiny pocket mouse—that led to the determination include dramatically darker fur, the lack of distinctly rounded ears, and a skull that is wider and less elongated; its habitat, which is at a higher altitude than the more common H. anomalus, also helped to solidify the definition.
Dr. Anderson pointed out that establishing separation between the species was also important. He explained that:
When you see gradual changes between locations, that is a sign that you do not have a distinct species...in this case, the species show very distinct morphology, even in the places where the vegetation types they inhabit come into contact.
Dr. Anderson, a leader in the use of geographic information systems analysis to model species distributions, has been studying the genus Heteromys in hopes that it can serve as an example of how GIS, evolutionary biology, and climate studies, can be integrated to help conservation efforts.
His initial models suggest that H. catopterius populations will decrease as its cool habitat is eroded by the effects of climate change.
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