The world’s newest monkey species was found in a lab, not on an expedition

The world’s newest monkey species was found in a lab, not on an expedition

The discovery of the Popa langur, a medium-sized leaf-eating monkey found in central Myanmar, was recently announced by scientists. It is estimated there are just 200 to 250 of these monkeys, which will likely mean the new species is classed as “critically endangered.” This find was announced just a week or so after two new species of greater glider – a gliding marsupial – were identified in Australia. But what do scientists mean when they announce the discovery of “new” mammalian species? Were these animals really unknown to science?

While discoveries such as the langur and the gliders are certainly exciting, it is important to clarify that these were not previously unseen species uncovered by some intrepid explorer. Rather, these animals have been identified as a genetically distinct group within an already-known population. In fact, local people have been living with these animals for generations, and have their own ways of identifying and classifying species. When scholars announce a newly defined species based on genetic evidence, it usually means they have elevated an already defined subspecies to the species level.

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