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Ecologists discover two new species of fluffy marsupials in Australia

It’s a rare occasion when not one, but two new mammals are discovered by scientists in a single day, yet that’s exactly what happened in Australia this past week. In a new study published in Nature‘s public access Scientific Reports journal, scientists confirmed that there are actually three species of greater glider, not one as previously assumed.

If you aren’t familiar with the greater glider, it’s a possum-sized marsupial that squeezes into tree hollows during the day and soars up to 100 meters through the air at night as it hunts for its favorite eucalyptus leaves. The furry creature is also one of Australia’s cutest animals, with its big round eyes and raised ears.

It has long been assumed that the gliders were one species with different traits depending on their habitat, but now scientists have DNA proof that they really are three different species. The southern species, which inhabits the eastern eucalyptus forests of Victoria and New South Wales, is the heavyweight of the family. As described in The Sydney Morning Herald, the southern species has a puffy fleece that makes it look about the size of a common brush-tailed possum. However, underneath all that fur, it’s really a skinny, light marsupial suited to gliding.

As for the northern glider, it’s about the size of the little ringtail possum and lives in the eucalyptus forests between Mackay and Cairns in Queensland. The central glider, which is sized between the northern and southern species, inhabits a range across southern Queensland and up to Mackay.

While it’s exciting that three species of greater glider have been identified, the fact of the matter is that these creatures are listed as vulnerable on the national list of at-risk wildlife. Habitat loss from logging and urban development, coupled with climate change, have pushed them out of many former strongholds. Australian National University ecologist Kara Youngentob also points out that the new discovery of the greater glider actually being multiple species “reduces the previous widespread distribution of the original species, further increasing conservation concern for that animal.”

Want to learn more about these fuzzy creatures that glide in the night? Have a look right here.

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