Categorized | Environment, Media

Adorable New Species of Mammal Discovered

 

Meet the Olinguito:  Newest Animal Discovered in 35 Years

(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

(Yahoo News/YouTube)–  It’s so cute it’s hard to resist, let
alone overlook.  But somehow science did overlook it — until now.

Researchers announced today a rare discovery of a new species of mammal called the olinguito.  The reddish-brown animal is about 2 feet long with a long tail and weighs about 2 pounds.  Imagine a mini-raccoon with a teddy bear face and you get the picture.

It belongs to a grouping of large creatures that include dogs, cats and bears.

The critter leaps through the trees of mountainous forests of Ecuador and Colombia at night, according to a Smithsonian researcher who has spent the past decade tracking them.  The discovery is described in a study in the journal ZooKey.

But the adorable olinguito shouldn’t have been too hard to find.  One of them once lived in the Smithsonian-run National Zoo in Washington for a year in a case of mistaken identity.

“It’s been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time” despite its extraordinary beauty, said Kristofer Helgen, the Smithsonian’s curator of mammals.

The little zoo critter, named Ringerl, was mistaken for a sister species, the olingo. Before she died in 1976, Ringerl was shipped from zoo to zoo in Louisville, Ky., Tucson, Ariz., Salt Lake City, Washington and New York City to try to get it to breed with other olingos.

Except she wouldn’t and never did.  “It turns out she wasn’t fussy,” Helgen said.  ”She just wasn’t the right species.”

Helgen first figured olinguitos were different from olingos when he was looking at pelts and skeletons in a museum.  He later led a team to South America in 2006.

“When we went to the field we found it the very first night,” said study co-author Roland Kays of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.  ”It was almost like it was waiting for us.”

It’s hard to figure how olingos and onlinguitos were confused for each other.  “How is it different? In almost every way that you can look at it,” Helgen said.

Olinguitos are smaller, have shorter tails, a rounder face, tinier ears and darker bushier fur, he said.  “It looks kind of like a fuzzball … kind of like a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat,” Helgen said.

It eats fruit and has one baby at a time.  Helgen figures there are thousands of olinguitos in the mountainous forest, traveling through the trees at night which makes them hard to see.

While new species are found regularly, usually they are tiny things like insects and not mammals, the warm-blooded advanced class of animals that have hair, live births and mammary glands in females.

Outside experts said this discovery not merely renaming something, but a genuine new species — with three new subspecies — and a significant find, the type that hasn’t happened for about 35 years.

“Most people believe there are no new species to discover, particularly of relatively large charismatic animals,” said Case Western Reserve University anatomy professor Darin Croft.  ”This study demonstrates that this is clearly not the case.”

The olinguito is the smallest member of the raccoon family of mammals.

The researchers only saw olinguitos in Ecuador and Colombia, but they said they could also be living in parts of Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Guyana, based on their cloud forest habitat.  The olingo is also native to Central and South America.

The North Carolina museum is already selling olinguito stuffed animals for about $15.  Proceeds will benefit habitat preservation for the creatures.

Perhaps there’s hope finding another elusive species evading science:  Bigfoot.

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One Response to “Adorable New Species of Mammal Discovered”

  1. Steve Lewis says:

    This is great! As a young teen I had a friend kinkajou at the Santa Barbara Museum’s little tiny zoo. You weren’t supposed to touch the animals and this one I was warned was particularly nasty with people. But he or she liked me, I usually get along with most animals, being one myself as exes will attest. Anyway, this kinkajou’s fur was the softest pelt I’ve ever felt, softer than mink, for sure, and he looked more like this new species, olinguito, than a racoon or that other Mexican snout-nosed one I’m too lazy to look up here. A new species under our noses. Bigfoot…isn’t that where one of your lower extremities ends up in your mouth?

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