30/04/2008

QUB Student Discovers New Mammal

Two students have discovered a new type of mammal in Ireland - the first such discovery in almost 50 years.

The creature is the greater white-toothed shrew, never before seen in Ireland.

The discovery was made by two post-graduate students, Dave Tosh from Belfast's Queen's University and John Lusby of UCC's Zoology, Ecology and Plant Science Department and is the first time in 44 years that a new mammal species has been found in the country.

The two were investigating the diet of barn owls in Tipperary and Limerick and found skulls belonging to the greater white-toothed shrew in the birds' pellets.

They noticed that the skulls were unusually large for Ireland's native pygmy shrew.

The find led scientists to trap seven of the shrews alive at four locations in Tipperary last month.

The mouse-sized greater white-toothed shrew, Crocidura russula, has a natural range, which extends across parts of Africa, France and Germany. It has been spotted before in the Channel Islands and the Scilly Isles.

Researchers believe the animal is likely to have been introduced recently to Ireland.

About half of Ireland's estimated 60 mammal species are thought to have been brought to the island by humans.

The last new mammal to be discovered in Ireland was the bank vole in 1964.

Scientists say that while the new shrew is likely to sustain threatened birds of prey including the barn owl, it could lead to the loss of small native mammals including the relatively indigenous pygmy shrew.

(DW)


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