Not every announcement of a newly discovered species feels like a huge deal. Thousands of new critters get their names in print every year as they are catalogued and confirmed by scientists. But most of those are insects, or tiny frogs, or blobby, mysterious creatures from deep below the sea. Most of the organisms that have eluded scientific detection are, well, elusive, so most of them are small or incredibly alien in their habitat.
But this week, researchers made an announcement that hits unusually close to home: for the first time in almost a century, we’ve added another great ape to the family. According to a study published in Current Biology, a small group of individuals in Sumatra represents a third, previously unknown species of orangutan.
While everyone loves finding a dozen hitherto unknown kinds of beetles, Pongo tapanuliensis is worthy of just a tad more excitement. The Tapanuli orangutan marks just the eighth living member of the great ape family—our family. It’s just us, bonobos, gorillas (eastern and western), chimpanzees, and three species of orangutan. Orangutans shared a common ancestor with humankind just around 11 to 16 million years ago, making them our (relatively) close cousins. In fact, their physical similarities led one study to suggest that it was orangutans—not chimps and bonobos—that serve as our closest relatives. (This is not a prevalent theory, to be clear, and the genetic evidence is against it; it just goes to show you how much we have in common with even our more distant ape family members.)