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New mouse-like mammal discovered in western Africa related to elephants

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The recent discovery of a new mammal in the remote desert of western Africa may finally answer the question of whether or not elephants are afraid of mice. The tiny creature resembles a long-nosed mouse but is more closely related genetically to elephants, according to a California scientist who helped identify it. If they are related, would the elephant be scared of it?

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The new species of elephant shrew, which has been given the scientific name Macroscelides micus, inhabits an ancient volcanic formation in Namibia. John Dumbacher, one of a team of biologists involved in the discovery said the species sports red fur that allows it to blend in with the color of its rocky surroundings.

Although the creature only weighs up to an ounce (28 grams) and measures 7.5 inches (19 cm) in length, including its tail, its genetic testing revealed its DNA to be more like that of much larger mammals.

“It turns out this thing that looks and acts like shrews that evolved in Africa is more closely related to elephants,” said Dumbacher, a curator of birds and mammals at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

The findings, published in the Journal of Mammalogy, floored scientists, who said the only visible link between an African elephant and the diminutive shrew is its trunk-like nose.

An elongated snout is a common feature of various shrew species, giving many of them the appearance of long-nosed mice, though shrews do not fall in the classification of rodents.

Dumbacher compared the newly discovered mammal to a small antelope in its physique and sleeping habits and to a scaled-down anteater in preferred prey and hunting techniques.

Just as an antelope, this tiny creature has long, spindly legs compared to its body size and lies down next to the bushes to sleep rather than burrowing. Like an anteater, it uses its extended nose to sweep the ground in search of ants and other insects.

The Macroscelides micus is prone to giving birth to twins, which hit the ground running similar to the calves of some types of African antelope.

The world will learn more about the new mammals after biologists return to Africa in the coming months to outfit the species with miniscule radio collars, Dumbacher said.

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