The monito del monte, Spanish for ‘little bush monkey’, named after its monkey-like partially prehensile tail, is a diminutive marsupial native to South America in the Valdivian temperate rain forests of the southern Andes (Chile and Argentina). It is the only extant species in the ancient order of Microbiotheria. In fact, Monito del Monte is more related to Australian marsupials than to South American marsupials. Genetic studies show that this species retains the most primitive characteristics of its group, and thus is regarded as a “living fossil.” It is a living representative of the first marsupials that populated South America, when the assembly of the supercontinent Gondwana reunited South America, Australia and Antarctica.
In a previous study, researchers showed that the monito del monte (Dromiciops gliroides) is split into 3 (three) geographically differentiated groups. Now, using morphological and molecular data from museum collections, Chilean researchers from Austral University of Chile, in collaboration with scientists from Peru and Uruguay, have recently described two new separate species of monito del monte, named Panchos’s monito del monte (Dromiciops bozinovici) and Mondaca’s monito del monte (Dromiciops mondaca). This claim is based on the different skull and dental features between the specimens. The findings are published in the Journal of Mammalogy.
D. mondaca is endemic to the Chilean Coastal Range, while the other new species, D. bozinovici, is distributed over a relatively large area of south-central Chile and nearby Argentina, which is severely fragmented due to human activities. The first species of monito del monte was described in 1984 and is restricted to the southern part of the area including Chiloé Island.