The world was in shock this morning as it woke up to the sensational story that a previously unknown primate species has been spotted in an English suburb.

At a time when conservation organisations worldwide are lamenting the inexorable downward trajectory of the planet’s beleaguered biodiversity, it is reassuring to learn that new species are being discovered to counterbalance those losses.

Primatologists have been falling over themselves for a first glimpse of the mysterious creature, which they speculate may have recently emerged after spending an extraordinarily long period of time lying concealed and in a semi-fossilised state.

“We have always known that some species hibernate while others prefer to aestivate,” explained a senior scientist at Fauna & Flora International (FFI), “but this is the first time we have encountered a species that spends all four seasons in a state of permanent torpor.”

Other experts insist that the newly discovered species may simply have been hiding in plain sight. As recently as December, there were reports that an unidentified hominid had been captured on film – admittedly from a long distance away – while lounging on a couch.

Sitting Zen science

An eagle-eyed observer – as the nosy neighbour was keen to rebrand himself – recorded the somewhat blurry footage on an iPhone from his own front room, bringing new meaning to the expression ‘armchair naturalist’. The photos appeared to show a well-camouflaged humanoid form wearing a flower-patterned shirt and reclining on flower-patterned upholstery, giving rise to predictable tabloid headlines such as Flores Man or Floral Man?

Whatever the explanation, discoveries of this nature are unprecedented in the 21st century. Several FFI staff who were among those instrumental in revealing the identity of the recently described Popa langur expressed their astonishment that a second new primate – this time a close relative of Homo sapiens – had been unearthed within the space of just a few months.

Homo boxsetiens, as the newly described species will henceforth be known, is thought to have evolved far more rapidly than any previous hominid, no doubt due to environmental pressures and enforced isolation from its neighbours over an extended period. It is believed to be sedentary to the point of being virtually immobile, with a home territory estimated to be no wider than the standard distance between a sofa and a fridge.

Remote location

The most notable physical characteristics of the new primate are its square, reddish eyes and a pronounced paunch that calls to mind the protuberant belly of a proboscis monkey. Another distinguishing feature is its extra-long arms, rivalled only by the limbs of the gibbons that are widely admired for their habit of brachiating through the Borneo rainforest canopy. In this case, however, the adaptation is believed to have originated not in the evolutionary advantage to be gained from swinging prodigious distances from branch to branch with acrobatic grace, but rather from the species’ habit of reaching repeatedly for the remote. A lifestyle choice rather than a survival strategy, in other words.

At this stage, very little is known about its feeding habits, but researchers are already speculating that the discarded crisp packets and pizza boxes scattered around what appears to be a favoured roosting spot may hold some vital clues about its preferred diet.

Any future research into the origins and behaviour of Homo boxsetiens will be contingent on finding additional funding for this vital work, and the conservation world is fervently hoping that someone out there will be foolish enough to oblige. Watch this space for further developments.