During the summer of 2010, a student expedition to Ecuador’s Sangay National Park led an ACU professor to discover a new species of opossum.
The Northern Shrew Opossum will be making its scientific debut in the Oct. 2013 issue of the Journal of Mammalogy.
Dr. Tom Lee, Biology department chair and professor, made the discovery of the Caenolestes sangay, or the Northern Shrew-Opossum.
The opossum is described to be medium-sized (rat sized), with grizzled brownish back and a cream-colored to pale grayish belly and is missing a chest area. The tail is bi-colored with a very dark back and a warmer, drab brown bottom part. It has large long fangs that are slightly curved near the tip.
The Ecuador project started in 2000 when Lee went to Ecuador with a friend who had been doing research in the Galapagos Islands.
“As a child, I dreamt of going to South America, I told my mother I was heading south and without hesitation she said ‘All right bye,'” Lee said.
Lee said that to find these little creatures they had to trek roughly 11,000 feet up the eastern side of the Andes Mountains, near Sangay, Ecuador’s most active volcano and lies within the park’s boundaries.
All specimens that have been collected were found alongside the Riobamba-Macas highway, which runs right through the park.
“They live under thick fern, and to get to the spot where you can find them is quite difficult in itself,” Lee said.
The new shrew-opossum has been captured both on steep slopes and in level forest-like areas.
Lee said that the discovery shouldn’t be fully credited to him. He said that it was possible with the help of Amy Scott, an ACU student at the time, Carlos Boda who helped plan the trip, and Santiago Bruneo, curator at the Catholic University of Ecuador. Along with others such as Miguel Pinto and Luis Albuja.
“This just proves that Ecuador is an ecological hot-spot, from which we can learn a lot about ecosystems and how they are affected by human activity,” Lee said.