Friday, December 14, 2012

New Species Of Slow Loris Discovered In Borneo

Slow lorises are small, furry, and utterly adorable. But don't let their cute'n'cuddly appearance fool you- slow lorises also have the distinction of being one of the few mammals that have a toxic bite.

In a study published recently in the American Journal of Primatology, researchers reported finding a new species of slow loris, Nycticebus kayan, lurking in the jungles of Borneo. Nycticebus, derived from ancient Greek, translates to 'night monkey'. The species was named for the mostly nocturnal habits of its members, a trait which can make finding and studying members of the genus Nycticebus difficult.

To classify the different species of slow loris, researchers focused on differences in the loris' furry 'facemasks'. Their findings have raised the slow loris species count by three. What started out as a single species (N. menagensis) and two subspecies (N. bancanus and N. borneanus) are now recognized as three distinct species, while N. kayan is an entirely new addition.

N. Kayan- doesn't that face just make you want to pinch his/her/its cheeks? Image credit: Shamma Esoof/Oxford Brookes University

Slow lorises are one of the few mammals with a toxic bite. The loris produces its poison in glands near its armpits, which it rubs its hands on when threatened before mixing the toxin with its saliva. After the toxin has been added to its saliva, the bite of the loris can potentially induce fatal anaphylactic shock in its victim. Researchers also believe that lorises may use the toxin to protect their offspring and deter predators by rubbing it on their children's fur before leaving to go forage.

Unfortunately, the slow loris' endearing appearance has also been its downfall. Slow lorises are often caught and sold as pets and their body parts are sometimes used in traditional medicines in certain cultures. Their canine teeth and incisors are often extracted to protect their future owners, despite the fact that the procedure can cause the loris to go into shock or develop potentially fatal infections.

Another kayan loris. Aww! Image credit: Ch'ien Lee

The authors of the new study suggested that their findings may aid in conservation efforts. Hopefully, with a better understanding of these enigmatic animals, scientists will be able to better protect them from wildlife traders.

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