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Real-life Pokemon GO: Researchers Seek Mysterious Zenkerella Squirrel

Aug 18, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
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A team of scientists is on a real-life Pokemon hunt as they search for the extremely elusive Zenkerella insignis, a mysterious squirrel-like animal from central Africa that has never been seen alive for almost a century.

According to the study published in the journal Peer J, researchers from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of South Califonia recently found dead specimens of scaly-tailed squirrels, which give clues that Zenkerellas may still be alive after all.

"Zenkerella could be seen as the ultimate Pokémon that scientists have still not been able to find or catch alive," said Erik Seiffert, lead author of the study. "After all, it probably only shows up in the middle of the night, deep in the jungles of central Africa, and might spend most of its time way up in tall trees where it would be particularly hard to see."

To obtain hints of the Zenkerella's existence, Seiffert and his team sampled the mysterious creature's DNA and compared it to the specimens' DNA .

Results show that the elusive rodent is distantly connected to the dead specimens, which, according to Phys.org, feature webbed legs and elbows as well as scaily tails for support and traction while climbing trees.

In the span of history, only 11 Zenkerella fossils can be found in museums around the world. The species is one of the five "sole surviving members of ancient lineages." This means that Zenkerella's existence dates back 49 million years ago and have only evolved minimally over time.

Seiffert says that of the five species survivor with ancient lineages, the Zenkerella is so elusive that it's the only one scientists have not studied thoroughly.

"We are only just starting to work on basic descriptions of Zenkerella's anatomy. It's fun to think that there might be other elusive mammalian species out there, deep in the rainforests of central Africa that will be new to science," said Seiffert.

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