A new species of mammal has been discovered, and Smithsonian researchers say it’s hard to define, but is like a “cross between a teddy bear and a house cat.” Sign me up!
Kristofer Helgen, the Curator of Mammals at the Smithsonian, says he’s actually been studying the olinguito for the past ten years but has been trying to distinguish the animal from the olingo, a similar species. In fact, the National Zoo in Washington actually housed an olinguito for several years during the ’60s and ’70s, but it was mistaken for an olingo.
“It’s been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time despite its extraordinary beauty,” said Helgen.
Helgen led a team to South America in 2006 on a search for the olinguito, and struck paydirt as soon as they arrived.
“When we went to the field we found it in the very first night,” said study co-author Roland Kays. “It was almost like it was waiting for us.”
The olinguito is about the size of a raccoon and spends a lot of time in trees in and around Ecuador and Columbia, and researchers say they are much smaller than the olingo. A new species of mammal is definitely an exciting find for the world of science, as nothing of the sort has been discovered in at least 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.”