The force is strong with this one.
A new species of primate has been discovered in Myanmar and southwestern China that scientists are calling the Skywalker hoolock gibbon, a reference to the famous Star Wars lineage, as reported by BBC.
These rare, rainforest dwelling small apes live almost entirely in the forest canopy, and, thanks to their unique movement and “noble” heritage, scientists have named the new species Hoolock tianxing, which translates to “heaven’s movement” or – in Star Wars terms – Skywalker.
The authors of a recent paper published in the American Journal of Primatology were able to differentiate the Skywalkers from other hoolack gibbon species based on both appearance and genetic sequencing. Skywalker hoolock gibbons are defined by their characteristic eyebrows and the color of their eye rings, beard, and foreskin hair. Along with unique mitrochondrial genes, Skywalkers have distinct teeth shapes.
The Skywalkers are native to Mt. Gaoligong, a hotspot of new species discovery located on the border of China and Myanmar. Due to the mountainous terrain and large rivers in the area, many species are isolated and evolve with minimal gene pool mixing.
Scientists believe that the Skywalker species diverged from their closest relatives about 500,000 years ago.
Unfortunately, there are very few Skywalker hoolock gibbons alive today, with less than 200 individuals believed to reside in China and unknown populations elsewhere. Hunting, illegal trade, and rapid habitat loss threaten the future of the Skywalker species , which has driven scientists to propose adding the Skywalkers to the IUCN (International Union for Conversation of Nature) Red List as an Endangered species.
Nonetheless, the discovery of the Skywalker hoolock gibbon has caused excitement across the Star Wars universe. Even Luke Skywalker himself got into to action, posting about the new Jungle Jedi on Twitter:
Top photo by Programme HURO
Joel Rindelaub is an active scientific researcher and Ph.D. chemist based in Minnesota.