The Land :: www.TheLandOnline.com

Z_CNHI News Service

August 15, 2013

Smithsonian unearths a new species of carnivore: the olinguito

After years of sleuthing, Smithsonian scientists have come up with a new species of mammal - the olinguito.

The rust-colored, furry mammal lives in the treetops of the Andes Mountains and weighs two pounds, making it the most petite member of the raccoon family. It dines on fruits such as figs but also enjoys insects and plant nectar, according to the Smithsonian Institution, which announced the discovery Thursday.

The olinguito is the first new species of carnivore found in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years. Finding a new mammal, especially a carnivore, is rare.

The discovery corrects a long-running case of mistaken identity. For decades, scientists thought the mammal was an olingo, a larger member of the raccoon family, or another mammal. The animals had been observed in the wild, tucked away in museum collections and even exhibited at zoos - including the National Zoo.

 No one realized it was a new species until further investigation and DNA testing.



 "In some ways, this animal was hiding in plain sight," said zoologist Roland Kays of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, who helped discover the olinguito. Its pelts and bones were found stashed away in dusty museum drawers, either mislabeled or not labeled at all.

The animal puzzled zookeepers because it oddly refused to breed or mingle with other olingos.

"They thought it was just a fussy olingo, but turns out it was completely the wrong species," said Smithsonian zoologist Kristofer Helgen, who spearheaded the sleuthing on the olinguito, which is Spanish for "little olingo."

"Getting a new scientific name out there is really fun," he said. "It's almost like giving birth."

Although olinguitos have been spotted in the cloud forests of the northern Andes - in rain forests at elevations of 5,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level - scientists speculate the animals also might live elsewhere in Central and South America.

Finding the species was sort of an accident. Helgen initially went museum-digging because he was determined to find out how many species of the olingo existed. At the Field Museum of Chicago, what he found in a drawer stopped him dead in his tracks.

The reddish-orange pelts he saw were nothing like the skins of the olingos. Searching further, he learned that the anatomy of the skull was different - shorter snout, dissimilar teeth.

"I knew at that point it was a new species, but I also knew I needed to be sure," Helgen said. For years, he toiled away to confirm that the olinguito was a new species with thorough investigation and DNA testing, always afraid that another scientist would beat him to the punch.

Finally, he called upon Kays, the world's resident olingo expert, to help him track down a wild olinguito in its natural habitat. The researchers, along with Ecuadorian zoologist Miguel Pinto, set off on a weeks-long field expedition to the Andean cloud forests.

Amid the misty treetops and giant tomato-sized figs, the team spotted one the first night.

 "It sort of bounced around the trees almost like a monkey," Kays said, "doing its thing, eating the figs."

Zoologist DeeAnn M. Reeder of Bucknell University, co-curator of a scientific database of mammals, finds the olinguito to be an "extraordinarily beautiful animal" and says that to describe a new carnivore in the 21st century is "special and amazing."

"This gets people excited about science and museum work, and about the things you can discover," she said.

 

1
Text Only
Z_CNHI News Service
  • HallofFameBraves.jpg Hall of Fame adds businesslike Braves, Frank Thomas, managers La Russa and Torre

    Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and their manager, Bobby Cox, dominated much of baseball during the 1990s. This weekend they went into the Hall of Fame together.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brother sues W.Va. senator over business loan

    U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's brother claims he's owed $1.7 million that he loaned to keep a family carpet out of bankruptcy in the 1980s.

    July 25, 2014

  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 25, 2014

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 25, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Inequality crisis shot with factual problems, hypocrisy

    President Obama, various media and political liberals say inequality, of all things, is the defining issue of our times. Yet this message is delivered by multimillionaires and a president who jets from tee time to stump speech on the taxpayer's dime.
     

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Arizona's prolonged lethal injection is fourth in U.S. this year

    Arizona's execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood marked the fourth time this year that a state failed to dispatch a convict efficiently, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group.3

    July 24, 2014

  • Police Brutality screen shot. Technology plays key part in battling police brutality (VIDEO)

    Allegations of police brutality are nothing new -- as long as there has been law enforcement, citizens have registered claims that some officers cross the line. But in the last few years, the claims of excessive force are being corroborated with new technology from cell phone cameras, police dash-cams and surveillance videos. 

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Better police needed for college teams enticed to cheat

    The NCAA once cracked down on colleges that went too far luring top prospects, then it targeted teams that lathered players with special treatment. That was until the NCAA's get-tough approach backfired, rendering it ineffective and creating an opportunity for those who want to play dirty.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 24, 2014

Featured Ads
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
The Land's Twitter Feed