New mouse find is 'living fossil' [BBC 2006-10-12]
[Photo] The newly-identified mouse has survived a wave of local extinction
A new species of mouse found in Cyprus is delighting scientists.
Identified by researchers at Durham University, it has bigger ears, eyes and teeth than other European mice.
The scientists say it is a surviving remnant of indigenous Cypriot fauna which mostly went extinct with the arrival of humans.
Most finds of new species occur in tropical regions with sparse human populations, which makes this a highly unusual discovery.
"It was generally believed that every species of mammal in Europe had been identified," said Durham's Thomas Cucchi.
"This is why the discovery of a new species of mouse on Cyprus was so unexpected and exciting."
To understand the history of Mus cypriacus, Dr Cucchi and colleagues compared the shape of its teeth with fossils of mice collected on Cyprus.
This showed that the species had arrived well before the human colonisation of the island about 9-10,000 years ago.
Prior to this research it had been assumed to be a variant of a house mouse brought by settlers.
Much of the wildlife endemic to Mediterrannean islands died off as humans spread, bringing with them mainland species which would eat or out-compete native forms.
Dr Cucchi believes M. cypriacus is the only pre-human rodent still in existence on Cyprus, making it a "living fossil" and a small window into the island's previous fauna.