In clarifying misidentification of Australian critter, scientists discover two new species
According to CNN, Australia is home to a species of furry residents who scientists are just realizing they've misidentified as only one species.
The greater glider is a possum-sized marsupial with big ears and a long furry tail, that effortlessly glides from tree to tree.
Until last week, the glider was classified as a single species, but a new study revealed the glider is actually three different ones, which means scientists have discovered the existence of two marsupial species.
"Australia's biodiversity just got a lot richer," said Professor Andrew Krockenberger of James Cook University, who was part of the research team. "It's not every day that new mammals are confirmed, let alone two new mammals."
Scientists have long suspected the glider might be several species, though there was never sufficient proof, he added in a news release from the university. There were hints such as differences in their size, color and physiology, which had been chalked up to a subspecies rather than an entirely different group, CNN reports.
DNA sequencing was used to analyze the gliders' genetic makeup, and confirm the theory for the first time. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
"It changes the whole way we think about them," said Denise McGregor, a PhD student at James Cook University and one of the study authors.
The three species' Latin names are now Petauroides volans, Petauroides minor and Petauroides armillatus, according to the study.
Like koalas, the greater gliders' diet consists exclusively of eucalyptus leaves. They can be found in forests along the Great Dividing Range, a major mountain range that runs along the east coast from northern Queensland to southern Victoria.
They were once common -- but their numbers have been falling for years, raising concern among conservationists, CNN reports. Habitat loss and fragmentation pose the biggest threats, with contributing factors like natural disasters, logging and climate change, according to Victoria's environmental agency.
These threats have hit many animal populations hard; Australia has the highest rate of species loss of any area in the world. But greater gliders are particularly vulnerable due to their specific diet and dependence on mature trees for shelter, and are now listed as "vulnerable" under the IUCN's Red List of threatened species.