New species of mammal found in Europe

October 13, 2006

Brussels, 12 Oct 2006

A team of researchers has found a new species of mammal in Europe; Mus cypriacus, as its name suggests, is a species of mouse found only on the island of Cyprus. Dr Thomas Cucchi, who is currently based at the University of Durham in the UK, is extremely excited by the finding: 'New mammal species are mainly discovered in hot spots of biodiversity like South East Asia and it was generally believed that every species of mammal in Europe had been identified,' he explained. 'This is why the discovery of a new species of mouse on Cyprus was so unexpected and exciting.'

Mus cypriacus is characterised by its long tail and bigger head, ears, eyes and teeth relative to other European mice. Analyses revealed that the mouse first arrived on Cyprus thousands of years before man, most likely by drifting there inadvertently on a natural raft. Once there, separated from mainland mouse populations by the Mediterranean Sea, it evolved into a separate species as it adapted to the local environment.

The fact that the species survived the arrival of humans on the island is remarkable. Before people started to colonise the Mediterranean, many of its islands were home to a startling array of species such as pygmy elephants and giant birds. Many of these could only be found on one island, and almost all became extinct soon after humans arrived in the area. In contrast M. cypriacus survived this period of upheaval and now lives side by side with the common European house mouse, which was introduced to the island by humans.

'The discovery of this new species and the riddle behind its survival offers a new area of study for scientists studying the evolutionary process of mammals and the ecological consequences of human activities on island biodiversity,' commented Dr Cucchi.

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