A new species of flying squirrel has been found in the Pacific Northwest. It’s been dubbed Humboldt’s flying squirrel, in honor of the great naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.

The discovery means that three—not two—species of the furred gliders live in North America, and it changes our understanding of how these squirrels evolved and spread across the continent, scientists report today in the Journal of Mammalogy.

The new species, Earth’s 45th known flying squirrel, also adds to the ongoing tally of our planet’s biodiversity—an increasingly urgent matter, given the high rate of extinctions.

Researchers will want to take a closer look at the role these gliders play in their ecosystem. And they’ll want to assess how well they’re doing, especially because they’re found in areas with threatened spotted owls, which often dine on flying squirrels—most likely this new species.

Last year the United States Fish and Wildlife Service rejected granting endangered species status to a population of the squirrels in southern California, and it’s not yet clear if the new species designation will affect that decision.

“I’ve been scratching my head over these squirrels since 1992,” says Brian Arbogast, a mammalogist at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, and the study’s lead author. “There was just something weird about those from the West coast… see more

source: National Geographic News