International scientists have discovered three new species of the mouse lemur, a tiny nocturnal primate with huge eyes. Twenty-four years ago, just two species were known. Today, there are 24.
At less than 27 centimeters head to tail, Microcebus, the mouse lemur, is the smallest primate in the world.
The tiny omnivores live high up in trees exclusively on the island of Madagascar. Their body weight actually varies, as the animals store fat in their hind legs and tails for leaner times.
The species all look relatively similar to the untrained eye - brown fur, strikingly huge eyes - so scientists resort to genetics to determine the different species.
"Recognized as two species 20 years ago, mouse lemurs now comprise more than 20 species, largely diagnosed from mtDNA sequence data," a team of international experts reported in the March edition of Molecular Ecology.
Primatologists from the German Primate Center (DPZ), the University of Kentucky, Duke Lemur Center and Madagascar's Antananarivo University were involved in the research.
Lemur, by the way, is Latin for ghost or shadow - a fitting name for an animal only active at night. Mouse lemurs sleep during the day and spend the night searching for and feeding on insects, flowers, leaves and fruit.
The smallest of the already small mouse lemur is Madame Berthe's mouse lemur. Discovered in 2000, the creature weighs no more than 30 grams - the equivalent of 13 penny coins. The most widespread and adaptable is the gray mouse lemur.