A newly recognized primate that lives in eastern Myanmar and southwestern China has been named after Star Wars' Luke Skywalker.
The scientists who discovered the animal decided to choose the name Skywalker hoolock gibbon not just because of their love for Jedis and the make-believe world created by George Lucas.
The scientific name of the Skywalker hoolock is hoolock tianxing. In Chinese, tianxing translates to "Heaven's movement," or "skywalker," which reflects the behavior and movement of the gibbons in the treetops where they live. The Chinese traditionally view the animals as almost mystical beings.
"Skywalker refers to the distinctive gibbon behavior of moving rapidly through the forest canopy, and it also refers to the ancient Chinese belief that gibbons were highly venerated and almost mystical beings that were above other mortal animals," said Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London. "However, it doesn't hurt that this name also relates to an icon of modern popular culture."
Hoolocks are a sub-type of gibbon that lives across much of Asia. Researchers estimate that fewer than 200 of skywalker hoolock gibbons live in China. Some of these gibbons live in Myanmar but the population size there is currently unknown. The researchers warn that the animals are at risk of extinction.
Turvey said that the low number of remaining animals along with the threats that they face from habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, and hunting means that they need to be classified as an endangered species.
New Species Of Hoolock Gibbon
Turvey and colleagues have been studying the primates since 2008. The researchers were already aware of two species of hoolock gibbons that live in the mountain forests, but by studying the gibbons in the wild and captivity for years and based on observations of the animals' genetic characteristics, teeth, and coat patterns, the researchers recommended that a third species of these apes be recognized.
"Hoolocks distributed to the east of the Irrawaddy Nmai Hka Rivers, which were previously assigned to H. leuconedys, are morphologically and genetically distinct from those to the west of the river, and should be recognized as a new species, the Gaoligong hoolock gibbon or skywalker hoolock gibbon (H. tianxing sp. nov.)," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal American Journal of Primatology, which was published in November 2016.
What Make The Skywalker Hoolock Gibbons Different?
The characteristics of the jedi ape that make them different from other gibbons are the shape of the eyebrows and the color of the eye rings. While all hoolock gibbons are characterized by white eyebrows, the brows of the skywalker hoolock gibbon are downturned. The songs that the animals use to bond with other gibbons and to mark out their territory are also characterized by an unusual ring. Male skywalkers are likewise characterized by black or brown tufts.
Actor Mark Hamill, who portrays Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, was proud to hear about the "Simian Skywalker" and "Jungle Jedi" when he learned about the name of the new ape species and expressed his delight on Twitter.
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) January 11, 2017