New Monkey and American Bird Species Found

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(Monkey belonging to the Callicebus genus recently discovered in the northwest of Mato Grosso State, Brazilian Amazon; Credit: Júlio Dalponte)

This has been a great week for animal discoveries. A unique new primate was recently found in the Amazon and, for the first time in decades, the United States has a new bird species.

 (Bryan's Shearwater, Midway Atoll, December 1990; Credit: Reginald David)

In both cases, the animals previously slipped under the radar of scientists, perhaps because the bird and the primate so closely resemble other documented species.

The new avian is a seabird, Bryan's Shearwater (Puffinus bryani), from the Hawaiian Islands, according to a paper in the journal The Condor. It's the first new species reported from the United States and Hawaiian Islands since the Po' ouli, another bird, was discovered in the forests of Maui in 1974.

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DNA testing determined Bryan's Shearwater is a new species.

"It's very unusual to discover a new species of bird these days and especially gratifying when DNA can confirm our original hypothesis that the animal is unique. This bird is unique, both genetically and in appearance, and represents a novel, albeit very rare, species," said Rob Fleischer, head of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics.

The Bryan's Shearwater is the smallest known shearwater in the world. As you can see from the photo, it's black and white with a black or blue-gray bill and blue legs.

One of the birds was found by biologists in 1963 during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program in 1963. Peter Pyle, an ornithologist at the Institute for Bird Populations, recently examined the specimen and found that it was too small to be a little shearwater (P. assimilis) and that it has a distinct appearance. Pyle's observation then prompted the genetic analysis.

As Fleischer said, this is a rare bird, so the race is already on now to protect it.

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"If we can find where this species breeds, we may have a chance to protect it and keep it from going extinct,” said Andreanna Welch, an SCBI predoctoral fellow. "Genetic analysis allows us to investigate whether an animal represents an entirely different species, and that knowledge is important for setting conservation priorities and preventing extinction."

Planning is also underway to protect the new monkey species recently found in Mato Grosso, the Brazilian state with the highest rates of deforestation in the Amazon. Often these days, if a new species is identified, it's extremely rare and possibly on the road to extinction.

The monkey is "a variation" of the titi monkey. Both the titi monkey and this new one are small, long-tailed and covered with soft fur. But the new primate sports its own unique look.

"This primate has features on its head and tail that have never been observed before in other titi monkey species found in the same area," biologist Júlio Dalponte said in a World Wildlife Fund press release.

A bunch of animals already on the endangered species list were also found in the monkey's same region. They include the giant anteater, giant armadillo, giant otter, jaguar and ocelot.

"This incredibly exciting discovery shows just how much we still have to learn from the Amazon," said Meg Symington, Director of WWF’s Amazon Program. "WWF has been working with the government of Brazil to increase protection and improve management for the Amazon so that species like this, and thousands of others, don’t disappear before we even know about them."

It is my hope that the efforts to protect both this new monkey and the new Hawaian bird can then help all of the other animals that live in and near their ecosystems — including humans.