Wednesday, January 08, 2014
Next big new species is.. a crocodile?
Yes. The slender-snouted crocodile, to be exact. It had been presumed to be one somewhat variable species Mecistops cataphractus all over Africa. It's not. The Western and Central African populations are very disctinct species that have not interbred, according to DNA, in seven million years. This is an example of cryptic species, those with a close enough resemblance to each other to be confused (for 150 years), in this case. (There ARE physical differences, they were just considered minor enough to overlook until the DNA reinforced the distinctions.) It's very important for conservation: one way to put it is that, in any tinkering, you have to know what the pieces are. The existing species name, by the way, fits a type specimen from Central Africa: the new western species, which is critically endangered (a scientific survey found only 50), still needs it own name. In a hurry.