Weatherford Democrat

Online Only

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
Online Only
  • Why do wolves howl?

    Of all the myths that dog the wolf, none is more widely accepted than the idea that wolves howl at the moon. Images of wolves with their heads upturned, singing at the night sky, are as unquestioned as a goldfish's three-second memory or a dog's color-blindness (both also myths).

    April 18, 2014

  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 18, 2014

  • Biggest student loan profits come from grad students

    This week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal government would earn roughly $127 billion from student lending during the next 10 years.

    April 18, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-04-18 at 4.44.15 PM.png Paint, doodle and sketch: 3 apps for art lovers

    In the absence of a palette of watercolors and a sketchpad, these three apps can fill in as your art supplies of choice.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • VIDEO: Boston bomb scare defendant appears in court

    The man accused of carrying a backpack containing a rice cooker near the Boston Marathon finish line on the anniversary of the bombings was arraigned Wednesday. He's being held on $100,000 bail.

    April 17, 2014

  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 16, 2014

  • Doctors to rate cost effectiveness of expensive cancer drugs

    The world's largest organization of cancer doctors plans to rate the cost effectiveness of expensive oncology drugs, and will urge physicians to use the ratings to discuss the costs with their patients.

    April 16, 2014

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

Must Read
Top News
House Ads
AP Video
Raw: Kangaroo Rescued From Swimming Pool Raw: 3 American Doctors Killed in Afghanistan Raw: Obama Arrives at State Dinner in Tokyo Raw: Obama Plays Soccer With Japanese Robot Raw: Obama Visits Meiji Shrine in Tokyo Stars Talk Guns N' Roses at Golden Gods New Pictures of Ship That Sank in 1888 Oregon Gay Marriage Ban Goes to Court SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher Video Shows Possible Syrian Gas Attack Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming FBI Joining Probe of Suburban NY 'Swatting' Call U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye'