Scientists have discovered a new species of hedgehog in eastern China, expanding the known range of the genus Mesechinus.
Previously thought limited to northern China and adjacent regions, the new species, named Mesechinus orientalis, is found in scrubland and subtropical forests of southern Anhui and northwestern Zhejiang provinces.
Here are some key facts about the newly discovered species:
- Small-bodied: Similar to Mesechinus hughi, but smaller than other Mesechinus species.
- Shortest spines in the genus: 1.8-2 cm long with distinctive color rings (white at the base, black ring, narrow light ring, and black tip).
- Sexual dimorphism: Males are generally gray, while females are reddish brown.
- Geographically isolated: Separated from its closest relatives by at least 1,000 km.
- Sister to the lineage of Mesechinus hughi and Mesechinus wangi: Diverged approximately 1.1 million years ago.
- Likely influenced by climate change: The split of the three species may be linked to increased cooling and aridification during the Middle Pleistocene.
- Potential glacial refugia: The mountainous area of southern Anhui and northwestern Zhejiang province may have provided refuge for the new species during glacial periods.
The discovery of Mesechinus orientalis is significant because it:
- Expands the known range of the Mesechinus genus: Previously thought to be limited to northern China and adjacent regions.
- Provides insights into the macroevolution of the genus: Helps us understand how the genus has evolved over time.
- Highlights the importance of conservation: underscores the need to protect the newly discovered species and its habitat.
The finding was published in a paper in the journal ZooKeys in November 2023.
Further research is needed to learn more about this fascinating new species, including its population size, diet, and behavior.