'Living fossil' mouse discovered on Cyprus

Published October 13, 2006

LONDON - Using DNA testing, scientists have discovered what is believed to be the first terrestrial mammal found in Europe in decades: a mouse with a big head, ears, eyes and teeth that lives in a mountainous area of Cyprus.

The mouse was native to the eastern Mediterranean island, survived the arrival of man on Cyprus and could be considered a "living fossil," experts said.

"New mammal species are mainly discovered in hot spots of biodiversity like Southeast Asia, and it was generally believed that every species of mammal in Europe had been identified," said Thomas Cucchi, a research fellow at Durham University in northeast England.

"This is why the discovery of a new species of mouse on Cyprus was so unexpected and exciting," he said in an interview Thursday.

The mouse mainly lives in the Troodos Mountain in the west of the island, Cucchi said.

It favors vineyards, grassy fields and bushes.

Genetic tests confirmed the mouse was a new species and it was named Mus cypriacus, or the Cypriot mouse.

The biodiversity of Europe has been reviewed extensively since Victorian times, and new mammal species are rarely found on the continent.