Rare mammal species olinguito discovered
WASHINGTON — Imagine a mini-raccoon with a teddy bear face that is so cute it's hard to resist, let alone overlook. But somehow science did — until now.
Researchers announced on Thursday a rare discovery of a new species of mammal called the olinguito. The reddish-brown, racoon-like animal is about 14 inches long with an equally long tail and weighs about 2 pounds.
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.
But the adorable olinguito shouldn't have been so 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, Tucson, Salt Lake City, Washington and New York City to try to get it to breed with other olingos.
“It turns out she wasn't fussy,” Helgen said. “She wasn't the right species.”
The discovery is described in a study in the journal ZooKey.
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 in 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.
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.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- In 2005, Cosby said he got drugs to give women for sex
- Police: No evidence of gunshot at Walter Reed hospital
- Santorum charter flight tab broke $400K
- Anti-Clinton crowd looks left to Sanders
- Sufficient votes to remove Confederate battle flag, survey shows
- Smoke clears at CSX derailment site in Tennessee
- 66 riders safely evacuated as 400-foot Ferris wheel stops in Florida
- Risk of government shutdown to worry Congress on return from July Fourth
- Arizona prison to relocate more than 350 inmates after disturbance
- Severe storms leave Midwest, track east
- Feds to push to double threshold for overtime pay