Today the Smithsonian Institute announced in a press conference that scientists have discovered a previously unknown species of mammal. The olinguito is a small raccoon-like animal that is approximately 2.5 feet long and weighs around 2 pounds, and today we learned of its existence for the very first time.
Here is what you need to know about this newly discovered species:
1. It’s in the Raccoon Family
There are many animals in the raccoon family, but the closest one to the newly discovered olinguito is the olingo. The olingo is similar to the olinguito in its appearance, but the olinguito is smaller, hence the adding of the Spanish suffix “ito” meaning small or, colloquially, cute and endearing.
2. The Investigation Began in a Museum
At today’s Smithsonian press conference, Kristofer M. Helgen, the head researcher on the project, chronicled the discovery of the olinguito. His research began when he wanted to discover more about olingos, but while researching he discovered skulls and skins in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History that seemed too small and misshaped to belong to an olingo. This research reportedly brought him to museums around the world. At this point the name “olinguito” was created and the team headed to the Andes to see them in their natural habitat.
The team published an article today in the academic journal ZooKeys. The article, released in conjunction with the press conference, is titled “Taxonomic Revision of the Olingos (Bassaricyon) with Description of a New Species, the Olinguito.”
3. One Was Mistaken for an Olingo in the Bronx Zoo
During the press conference Helgen explained that olinguitos are not completely new to North America. Many olinguitos, including a prominent one that was displayed in the Bronx Zoo, were categorized as olingos and are only now being identified.
Helgen said today that the zoo knew that something was wrong when all of the olingos refused to mate with it.
4. They Live High in the Andes Mountains
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) August 15, 2013
The olinguitos live at high altitude in the Andes mountains, specifically in the “cloud forests” of Colombia and Ecuador. They live high up in tree canopies, and researchers are doubtful as to whether they ever walk the earth. These canopy dwellers are carnivores, but eat mostly the fruit found in trees.
This is the first time a carnivore has been named since the 1970s when a ferret was discovered in the same region as the olinguito.
5. Its Scientific Name is Bassaricyon Neblina
The genus name for the olinguito is Bassaricyon, which places it in the same same genus as the olingo. As a newly discovered species, the scientists who discover it can create the name for the species. Helgen and his team decided to call it Neblina, the Spanish word for mist. Helgen said this was to a symbolic reference to the olinguito’s new appearance in the scientific world.