Science

'Star Wars' Gibbon: New Species Of Primates Confirmed By Scientists

By Anne Dominguez , Jan 11, 2017 12:44 PM EST
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RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL - AUGUST 07: A 7-day-old unnamed Siamang Gibbon weighing 170 grams is nursed by his mother Jamby at the safari park and zoo on August 7, 2012 in Ramat Gan, Israel. The Siamang Gibbon is found mainly on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Malaysian peninsula. (Photo : Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

The "Star Wars" gibbon from the hit sci-fi franchise is now a reality. Scientists confirmed a new species of primates from gibbons living in the tropical forests of south west China and eastern Myanmar. The specie was named Skywalker hoolock gibbon from scientists who were undeniably fans of 'Star Wars.'

It previously belonged to the species of Hoolock leuconedys (Eastern hoolock gibbon), but now it is categorized to Hoolock tianxing with the common name, Skywalker hoolock gibbon. Its scientific name literally means heaven's movement or skywalker. Gibbons, also known as smaller apes or lesser apes differ from great apes like chimpanzees as they exhibit low sexual dimorphism and do not make nests.

A research team from the University in China started suspecting that the species was different due to its appearance. Commonly, hoolock gibbons have white eyebrows and beards however, the "Star Wars" gibbons had brown or black beards.  They also did a physical and genetic comparison of the specie in a study published in the American Journal of Primatology and found out that the Skywalker hoolock gibbons were indeed different species.

The researchers used the specimens of the animals to from a museum and conducted a thorough investigation. They conducted multi-disciplinary analyses with the external morphology, mitochondrial genomic sequences, and craniodental characters of the hoolock gibbons in China. The results suggest that the species is morphologically and genetically distinct the Eastern hoolock gibbon.

The team also warned the extinction of the species. "The low number of surviving animals and the threat they face from habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and hunting means we think they should be classified as an endangered species," Dr Sam Turvey from the Zoological Society of London told The BBC. The "Star Wars" gibbons would be categorized as endangered under the IUCN criteria. There is a population of at least 200 Skywalker gibbons and a currently unknown number in Myanmar.

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