A mystery “hybrid” monkey has baffled scientists, after the apparent cross breed was spotted in a Borneo rainforest.
The monkey, spotted near the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo, appears to be a combination of two different species that are actually competing for forest space, a new study states.
The “mystery monkey” was initially spotted in 2017 and pictures began circulating online of the specimen but coronavirus blocked researchers from getting up close and personal.
Instead, they analysed the 2017 images and newer ones from 2020, that show the then-juvenile has developed into a fully formed female and even has a child of her own.
“She appeared to be nursing a baby,” study co-author Nadine Ruppert, a primatologist at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (Science University of Malaysia), told Live Science. “We were all in awe, it was quite surreal.”
Researchers concluded that the monkey is likely the offspring of two distantly related species that share the same habitat; a proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) and a silvery langur (Trachypithecus cristatus).
Scientists are so interested because even in the rare case that inter-breeding between the same species takes place, it doesn’t usually produce viable offspring.
Furthermore, interbreeding species are typically similar and belong to the same evolutionary group, or genus, which proboscis monkeys and silvery langurs do not.
“We concluded from the observations that the photographers made that male proboscis monkeys are mating with female silver langurs in the area and that there are mixed groups where female proboscis monkeys even take care of silver langur babies,” Ruppert said.
Male proboscis monkeys may be using their larger size to oust langur males and take over langur groups, Live Science reported.
Although an interesting cross over, Ruppert said there must be an issue of space through habitat loss, that creates the need, or opportunity, for the two species to interbreed.
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“It’s tragic that both species now cramp together in the remaining narrow riparian forest patches surrounded by oil palm plantations, where they compete for food and mating opportunities,” Ruppert said.
“I hope that people will start talking about her, not as an attraction, but as a ‘flagship’ animal of the area that needs to be protected, and with her, her two parent species and their habitat.”
The study was published April 26 in the International Journal of Primatology.