New monkey isn't so much "new" as "newly documented in a scientific journal"

When somebody says that a new species has been discovered, it's easy to get the impression that this is an animal nobody has ever seen before. But that's usually not exactly what scientists mean.

Take the lesula (or Cercopithecus lomamiensis), an African monkey whose "discovery" is making headlines this week. While it does seem to be true that this particular species hasn't been previously named and documented in the scientific literature, the scientists who wrote about the lesula were not the first people to encounter one. What's more, lesula do not represent a species totally removed from animals we already knew about. Here's Mongabay's Jeremy Hance:

"There are monkeys out there between the three rivers that no one recognizes. They are not in our field guides," Terese Hart wrote tantalizingly in a blog post in 2008. "We've sent photos to the most renown of African Primatologists. Result: a lot of raised eyebrows. And the more we find out the higher our eyebrows go."

One of these monkeys was the lesula (Cercopithecus lomamiensis). John Hart first came across the new species in June 2007 when he and a field team were shown a captive baby lesula, kept as a pet by the local school director's daughter in the remote village of Opala. The next step was locating the species in the wild.

...the lesula is apart of the Cercopithecini family, which are commonly referred to as guenons. It's most similar to the owl-faced monkey (Cercopithecus hamlyni), which is also found in the region. But the lesula sports a lighter coat and has unique calls. Genetic testing, furthermore, proves the species are distinct from each other and have likely been separated for a few million years, probably by impassable rivers.

I don't mean to downplay this find. It's pretty awesome for the Harts to be the first scientists to write about this species in a peer reviewed research paper. But I think there's a bit of a common mis-understanding between what scientists mean when they say they've discovered a new animal, and what the public often thinks they mean.

Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of what's going on.

Read more about the lesula at Mongabay


      1. I was thinking the exact same thing. That monkey do a rom com about a cop who wins the lottery and I don’t think I could tell the difference.

      1. At first I thought you were insulting VW, then I looked again and the tilt of the head and the thin nose do remind me of one of the famous pictures of her.

        1. Yes – not an insult at all.  I actually think she was a strikingly beautiful woman.  But that monkey?  That monkey is a Woolf monkey.

    1. Absolutely.  That is the very first thing that I thought when I saw the picture.  The second thing was that this expression defines bored resignation.  The monkey, not Gene Wilder.

  1. I thought monkeys were created in the monkey vacuum by fluctuations in the background monkeyness. In certain rare instances a new monkey and a new anti-monkey will be produced. In most cases the pair will annihilate each other, but occasionally the monkey pair will float apart and and a new kind of monkey is born. The anti-monkeys spend their days hiding in the deepest parts of the jungle, cause they’re just not that into us.

  2. Isn’t that the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers?  The “Discount Double-check” guy, Aaron Rodgers?

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