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Three new species of primates with poisonous bite identified in Borneo

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Three new species of slow loris (genus Nycticebus) have recently been identified, according to the BBC. The December 13 report, found at www.bbc.co.uk, says the newly classified primates had originally been grouped with another species.

University of Missouri doctoral student, Rachael Munds, and her colleagues divided the species into four distinct classes based on fur thickness, facial marking characteristics, body size and habitats. Munds and her colleagues used museum specimens and photographs, as well as live specimens, to separate the new species from the original one. The newly identified species are found on the island of Borneo.

Slow lorises are nocturnal prosimians more closely related to bushbabies and lemurs than to monkeys or apes. Their big-eyed, teddy-bear faces have made them appealing to the pet trade, but slow lorises have a poisonous bite and should not be kept as pets, according to Munds.

The toxic bite sets slow lorises apart from other primates. A gland, called the brachial gland, is located on the animal’s front leg. When the slow loris feels threatened, it secretes a clear strong-smelling fluid, similar to sweat, from this gland. If the threat continues, the loris will rub its forelegs over its head and neck, spreading brachial gland secretions onto the fur. It may also lick the brachial gland to mix the secretions with saliva.

The exudate from the brachial gland is a powerful allergen very similar to cat allergen. Some victims of slow loris bites have succumbed to anaphylactic shock, while others have reported only localized pain at the site, according to information from www.primatology.net.

The pet trade is not the only threat the slow loris faces. The animals are also used in traditional Asian medicines. Slow loris tears are used to treat human eye infections. The tears are collected by roasting a skewered, still-living slow loris over an open fire.

Munds states in a report found at www.biologynews.net that slow lorises are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species act, and that she hopes any publicity about the newly identified species will serve to draw attention to the plight of these endangered primates.

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