July 18 (UPI) -- Scientists have discovered a new species of flying squirrel in Southwest China. The species is closely related to a pair of flying squirrel species on the "most wanted" list published by the Global Wildlife Conservation.
Until now, there were two flying squirrel species in the genus Biswamoyopterus, India's Namdapha flying squirrel and Laos' Laotian giant flying squirrel. Only a single specimen representing each species have ever been recovered -- in 1981 and 2013, respectively.
Recently, researchers discovered what appeared to be a Biswamoyopterus specimen while surveying collections of the Kunming Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Though similar in appearance to the two most-wanted species, researchers determined the flying squirrel was anatomically unique, with a distinct skull and teeth structure, as well as different coloration.
Researchers determined the specimen represented a third species in the rare genus, naming the squirrel species Biswamoyopterus gaoligongensis. Scientists gave the species the common name of the Mount Gaoligong flying squirrel.
"The morphological features of B. gaoligongensis are closer to the critically endangered and missing Namdapha flying squirrel, but is still readily identifiable as a distinct species," researcher Quan Li said in a news release.
During a field survey, scientists collected a second B. gaoligongensis specimen and observed two more. They detailed their discovery this week in the journal ZooKeys.
While the three species remains extremely rare, the new discovery is good news -- offering conservationists hope that there are more flying squirrels out there.
"The new species was discovered in the 'blank area' spanning 1,250 kilometers between the isolated habitats of the two known species, which suggests that the genus is much more widespread than previously thought," Quan Li said. "There is still hope for new Biswamoyopterus populations to be discovered in between or right next to the already known localities."
Still, because the new species lives among lowland forests that often abut human settlements, habitat that is vulnerable to agricultural conversion, scientists suggest the species is vulnerable to anthropogenic threats.