Tree-climbing Skywalker


Work conducted 50 years ago contributed to the identification of a new primate species.


ANU / Supplied

Behold: a species of primate named the Skywalker Hoolock gibbon – partly because the scientists behind the discovery are Star Wars fans.

Renowned biological anthropologist Colin Groves of the Australian National University has been working in the field of species classification for more than 50 years.

Whilst studying museum specimens of Hoolock gibbons in the 1960s, Groves realised that there were actually two related yet distinct species. He named the new species Hoolock leuconedys, from the Latin terms leuco meaning white and nedys meaning groin.

Half a century after the discovery, Chinese researchers led by primatologist Peng-Fei Fan were looking at Chinese primate populations including Hoolock leuconedys. On close inspection Fan believed there was actually a third separate species.

The team contacted Groves who was able to provide his original study data and help confirm that Fan’s suspicions were correct.

Fan’s team named the new species Hoolock tianxing or the Skywalker Hoolock gibbon because the Chinese characters of its scientific name mean "Heaven's movement" – and because, of course, Star Wars.

The primate was reported in the American Journal of Primatology.

  1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajp.22631/full
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