Image: Newly discovered species of titi monkey
Javier García
The titi monkey is a cat-size creature that is critically endangered because of rapid habitat loss and its small population.
updated 8/12/2010 11:03:13 AM ET 2010-08-12T15:03:13

A scientific expedition to the Colombian Amazon has revealed a new species of monkey.

The species of titi monkey (Callicebus caquetensis) is a cat-size creature that is critically endangered because of rapid habitat loss and its small population. The discovery was announced Thursday by the environmental nonprofit group Conservation International.

Research from 30 years ago hinted that a previously unknown primate species might be living in Colombia's Caquetá region, near the Ecuadorian and Peruvian border, but violence and insurgent fighting kept the area off limits for decades. It was only in 2008 that scientists Thomas Defler, Marta Bueno and student Javier García of the National University of Colombia proved the rumors true.

García, a native of Caquetá, was finally able to travel to the upper Caquetá River three years ago, and, using GPS, searching on foot, and listening for calls, he found 13 groups of the new species. Titi monkeys (or zogui zogui as they are called in Spanish) have one of the most complex calls in the animal kingdom and use it every morning to mark their territory.

"This discovery is extremely exciting because we had heard about this animal, but for a long time we could not confirm if it was different from other titis. We now know that this is a unique species, and it shows the rich diversity of life that is still to be discovered in the Amazon,” said Defler.

C. caquetensis has grayish-brown hair, but does not have a white bar on its forehead as many other species of Callicebus do. Its long tail is stippled with grey, and it has a bushy red beard around its cheeks. Unlike most primates, Caquetá titi monkeys (and probably all titi monkeys) form life-long, monogamous relationships, and pairs are often seen sitting on a branch with their tails entwined.

They usually have one baby per year. As a new baby arrives, the parents force the oldest baby to leave to allow them to focus on the newborn (this is based on information collected from closely related species). The families of this species stick together in groups of about four individuals and can be seen in the trees close to some of the main rivers of Caquetá.

This newly discovered species is struggling to survive. It is estimated that less than 250 Caquetá titi monkeys exist — a healthy population should be in the thousands. The main reason for this small number is the degradation of the forests in the area, which have been felled for agricultural land. It is very dangerous, and sometimes impossible, for these animals to cross grassy savannah or barbed wire fences to reach other patches of forest.

Both the very small population size and the fragmented habitat should qualify the species for a Critically Endangered species classification, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature criteria, which means that it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future.

"This discovery is particularly important because it reminds us that we should celebrate the diversity of Earth, but also we must take action now to preserve it," said José Vicente Rodríguez, head of science at Conservation International in Colombia and president of the Colombia Association of Zoology.

"When world leaders meet later this year in Japan for the Convention on Biological Diversity, they must commit to the creation of many more protected areas if we want to ensure the survival of threatened creatures like this in the Amazon and around the world."

© 2012 OurAmazingPlanet. All rights reserved. More from OurAmazingPlanet.

Explainer: Top 10 new species of 2009 named

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    K.J. Osborn via

    This bomb-dropping worm, Swima bombiviridis, is among the top 10 species discovered in 2009, according to the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. The annual roundup winnows down a list of about 20,000 species described each year to just a few mind-benders.

    "It is a great way of getting the public involved in biodiversity," says Mary Liz Jameson, a biodiversity scientist at Wichita State University and chair of this year's selection committee. While the criteria for selection include scientific significance, Jameson admits that "the cool factor" also plays a part.

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    Click ahead to see the other cool species on the top-10 list.

  • Rat-eating plant

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    Alastair Robinson (University of Cambridge)

    The cool factor of the giant pitcher plant from the Philippine island of Palawan is pretty obvious: Rodents and insects that fall into the football-sized "pitcher" can be trapped and slowly consumed by the plant's enzymes. Yup, it's a plant that eats rats.

    What's more, the plant, dubbed Nepenthes attenboroughii, is named after Sir David Attenborough, a British TV naturalist who is a patron of Philippine conservation efforts. The plant is known only from a single locality and is "critically endangered," notes Jameson.

  • Weird Malagasy yam

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    An edible yam from Madagascar, Dioscorea orangeana, made the list for what researchers called its "weird" factor. Unlike other yams from the African island nation, it has several digital lobes instead of just one.

    Conservation of the yam is a concern since it is known only from a 1.7-square-kilometer (0.7-square-mile) area that is unprotected, according to Britain's Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. where one of the discovery team members works.

  • Hard-to-classify slug

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    A new type of sea slug discovered in Pak Phanang Bay in the Gulf of Thailand is unusual because it eats insects. Most other sea slugs, known as sacoglossans, eat algae. A few specialize in the eggs of snails and slugs.

    The slug, Aiteng ater, was named after a popular puppet in the southern part of Thailand.

  • Flat-faced frogfish

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    A frogfish with forward-facing eyes and a psychedelic skin pattern that could spark flashbacks to a trippy Grateful Dead show made the list, from Jameson's perspective, because it's "an absolutely gorgeous animal and here it is being described in 2009. You'd think that something that is that outstandingly beautiful would have been discovered before now."

    The psychedelic frogfish, Histiophryne psychedelica, is found in Indonesian waters. Scientists said its colorful pattern may help it blend in with the venomous corals of its surroundings, offering it protection from predators.

  • Spider casts a wide web

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    A golden orb spider that likely casts some of the widest webs known high up in the forests of South Africa is the first new species to be described in its family since 1879.

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  • The phallic mushroom

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    Herpetologist Robert Drewes at the California Academy of Sciences is reportedly thrilled to have a 2-inch-long, penis-shaped mushroom from the African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe named in his honor, Phallus drewesii.

    "He wasn't offended by it," says Jameson. "I mean, wouldn't it be cool to have a new species named after you?"

    Drewes initiated extensive biodiversity studies on Sao Tome and Principe and dedicated more than 30 years of his life to research in Africa. The shroom's discoverers said they named Phallus drewesii after Drewes because of that dedication.

  • A fanged fish

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    In this age of vampire hysteria, a minnow with toothlike fangs is a shoo-in for a top 10 list.

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    The freshwater minnow was discovered in Myanmar. Scientists say the males use their fangs for sparring with each other. Females lack the vampiresque structures.

  • A model fish gets its own name

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    Scientists have used this electric fish species for several decades to study the physiology of electric organs and how fish use electricity to communicate, but referred to it in the scientific literature as Gymnotus carapo. But the fish are actually members of a separate species, incorrectly lumped together with G. carapo.

    A team of neurophysiologists in Uruguay realized the mistake in 2009 and named the species Gymnotus omarorum, after pioneers in the study of electrogenesis, Omar Macadar and Omar Trujillo-Cenoz.

    "This highlights how little we know about biodiversity when a 'model organism' can remain undescribed for 30 years," Jameson and her fellow committee members say.

  • The killer sponge

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    Most sea sponges are similar to their kitchen sink namesakes — happy to survive on bits of plant matter and bacteria that filter their way. In the dark depths of the sea, however, some sponges eat meat. A newly discovered carnivorous sponge, Chondrocladia (Meliiderma) turbiformis, rounds out the top 10.

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