Image Credit: Galen Rathbun, Francesco Rovero

All throughout the animal kingdom, there are various creatures that aren’t what they appear to be. We have shape-shifting octopi — capable of perfectly imitating some of the most fearsome, ocean-dwelling organisms found below Earth’s surface; harmless ants that pose as poisonous ones; and even caterpillars that mimic snakes in a freakishly convincing manner. However, this newly discovered creature is certainly the most adorable impostor.

Meet The Macroscelides Micus:

This tiny, mouse-like creature (or, perhaps a shrew is more precise classification) is definitely not what it seems. Though this fuzzy little animal is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand , its closest living relative is actually the elephant. That’s right, this shrew is more closely related to an elephant than it is to other shrews.

It has been given the formal name “Macroscelides micus,” or the round-eared sengi  (though it should come as no surprise to anyone that it’s informally known as the elephant shrew). The only thing more unexpected than the creature itself is how it was discovered. Galen Rathbun — a  behavioral ecologist with California’s Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability — along with his partner,  Francesco Rovero (from the Museum of Natural Sciences in Trento, Italy) found the creature earlier this year in the Namibia desert.

After Rathbun initially saw it —by complete accident, mind you. He was just walking around near an ancient volcanic formation when he stumbled upon it — he noticed that it looked peculiar, and managed to get a much closer look.

What We Know About it Now:

The only physical resemblance the shrew has to an elephant is its trunk-like snout. It wasn’t until the men were able to perform further analysis on the samples that the true nature of the creature was discerned, prompting them to return to the arid desert to get a closer look at the creatures in their natural environment. In a recent publication of the Journal of Mammology, the researchers reported that the shrew uses its elongated trunk to sweep the ground while it hunts for prey … kind of like an anteater does. In fact, Rathburn even equated it to a crossing between a miniature antelope and an anteater.

Among the other differing characteristics, it’s much smaller than its other counterparts, measuring in at just 7.5 inches (190 millimeters) from nose-tip to tail-tip. Its coloring is also noticeably different (a trait that potentially helps it camouflage itself among the red, Namibian soil). Its mating habits also variate from other elephant shew species (strangely, it’s monogamous). After reproducing,its offspring comes in pairs (or triplets in some cases). As for its diet, it has a taste for termites and insects.

Moreover, as another researcher added: “They also have a very large scent gland on their tail, which is probably important in signaling other members of their species in order to find mates and mark territories.” 

[Reference: Discovery News]

This newly-discovered relative of elephants fit in the palm of your hand (Credit: Galen Rathbun, Francesco Rovero)

What The Future  Holds:

This elephant shrew is clearly very different from other shrews (it is one of 19 sub-sengis in the Macroscelidea family),thus it gives us a whole new avenue to study the evolution of life on our planet (and will be more effective once researchers journey back to the site). Plus, finding new mammals is really rare. It’s even more exciting when they kind of manage to find us!

See the full press release here.

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