Scientists have identified two new moles which may have been living undiscovered in the mountains of eastern Turkey for up to three million years.
The animals, named Talpa hakkariensis and Talpa davidiana tatvanensis, belong to a familiar group of subterranean, invertebrate-eating mammals found across Europe and Western Asia.
While only one species of mole, Talpa europaea, is found in Britain, further east there are a number of different moles, many of which have very small geographical ranges.
The researchers, using cutting edge DNA technology, have confirmed the new animals are biologically distinct from other moles.
Both inhabit mountainous regions in eastern Turkey and are able to survive in temperatures of up to 50C in summer and being buried under two metres of snow in winter.
The study was conducted by researchers from Ondokuz Mayis University in Turkey, Indiana University in the US and the University of Plymouth.
The discoveries mean that the number of known Eurasian moles has been raised from 16 to 18, and each have their own distinct genetic and physical characteristics.
To identify their latest finds, the researchers studied the size and shape of various bodily structures, using advanced mathematical analyses, which also allowed them to include specimens collected in the 19th century that are still available in museum collections.
A complimentary analysis of the moles’ DNA, and a detailed comparison with known species, then confirmed their distinctiveness.
As a result, Talpa hakkariensis – found in the Hakkari region of southeastern Turkey – was identified as a new species of mole, highly distinctive in terms of both its morphology and DNA.
Talpa davidiana tatvanensis – found near Bitlis, also in south-eastern Turkey – was also identified as being morphologically distinct but has been classified as a subspecies of Talpa davidiana.
Talpa davidiana was first identified in 1884.
The study, Notes from the Anatolian underground: Two new mole taxa from Eastern Turkey, together with a revised phylogeny of the genus Talpa, is published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.