LONDON (AP) – Using DNA testing, scientists have discovered what is believed to be the first terrestrial mammal found in Europe in decades: a mouse with a big head, ears, eyes and teeth that lives in a mountainous area of Cyprus.

The mouse was native to the eastern Mediterranean island, survived the arrival of man on Cyprus and could be considered a “living fossil,” experts said.

“New mammal species are mainly discovered in hot spots of biodiversity like Southeast Asia, and it was generally believed that every species of mammal in Europe had been identified,” said Thomas Cucchi, a research fellow at Durham University in northeast England.

“This is why the discovery of a new species of mouse on Cyprus was so unexpected and exciting,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

The mouse mainly lives in the Troodos Mountain in the west of the island, Cucchi said, favoring vineyards, grassy fields and bushes.

Genetic tests confirmed the mouse was a new species and it was named Mus cypriacus, or the Cypriot mouse. The findings appeared in Zootaxa, an international journal for animal taxonomists.

The biodiversity of Europe has been reviewed extensively since Victorian times, and new mammal species are rarely found on the continent.

Cucchi said a bat discovered in Hungary and Greece in 2001 was the last new living mammal found in Europe. No new terrestrial mammal has been found on the continent for decades, he said.

Recent discoveries elsewhere have included a new tree rat in Brazil, a new primate in Tanzania and another new mouse in the Philippines.

The discovery indicated the mouse survived man’s arrival on the island and now lives alongside common European house mice, whose ancestors went to Cyprus during the Neolithic period, the university said.

In Cyprus, Cucchi and other scientists he was working with compared the new mouse’s teeth to those of mouse fossils. The comparison showed the new mouse had colonized and adapted to the Cypriot environment several thousand years before the arrival of man, Durham University said in a statement.

“All other endemic mammals of Mediterranean islands died out following the arrival of man, with the exception of two species of shrew. The new mouse of Cyprus is the only endemic rodent still alive, and as such can be considered as a living fossil,” said Cucchi.

Shrews resemble mice but have a long, pointed snout and eat insects.

Cucchi, an archaeologist, found the new species while working in Cyprus in 2004. He was examining the remains of mice teeth from the Neolithic period and comparing them to those of four modern-day European mice species to determine if the house mouse was the unwelcome byproduct of human colonization of the island 10,000 years ago, the university said.

“The discovery of this new species and the riddle behind its survival offers a new area of study for scientists studying the evolutionary process of mammals and the ecological consequences of human activities on island biodiversity,” Cucchi said.

Another scientist involved was Eleftherios Hadjisterkotis, an officer of the Game and Fauna Service of the Interior Ministry of Cyprus.

In an interview in Nicosia, Hadjisterkotis said that for years he had been collecting the remains of mice that had been eaten by owls and noticing unusual characteristics in some of the body parts.

“The jaws looked different. I knew we had something different,” he said.

But Hadjisterkotis said that he and the other scientists weren’t sure they were handling a new mammal until the DNA testing conducted by the University of Montpellier, France.

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