Odd New Species of Mammal Discovered


Some exciting news was announced today about a very rare occurance in the field of biology. Dr. Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, announced today the existence of an entirely new species of mammal.  

Well, more accurately, Dr. Helgen accounced that we have finally offically identified and named a species that had been collected in the past and for which museums had skins and bones (and which was possibly even kept in zoos) but that was mistaken for another closely related species.  

The animal, native to the cloud forest of the Andean mountains in Ecuador and Colombia, is a carnivore now known as the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina).  It is related to raccoonscoatiskinkajous and another South American animal called the olingo.  Olinguitos look very similar to olingos, and confusion between to the two seems to be the reason the olinguito wasn't accurately identified and named until now.

Meet the olinguito.  Cute little bugger, no?

The olinguito, a mammal species newly described by science.

Photo by Mark Gurney via the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science's Facebook page.

Dr. Helgen noticed that the teeth, skulls and skins of certain museum specimens were different than that of the most olingos.  The locations where these specimens had been collected were not the normal range of the olingo, either. With those clues, he set about trying to figure out if this was indeed an entirely new species sitting right under our noses that was undescribed by science...and if it still existed in the wild.

To help him answer these questions, he contacted Dr. Roland Kays, Biodiversity Lab Director at the North Carolina Musuem of Natural Sciences and professor in the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University.  Dr. Kays led the field team that made the discovery of these creatures in the wild.

Dr. Kays had this to say:

"The data from the old [misindentified olingo] specimens gave us an idea of where to look, but it still seemed like a shot in the dark.  But these Andean forests are so amazing that even if we didn’t find the animal we were looking for, I knew our team would discover something cool along the way.” 

I think this is such a great example of the spirit of scientific inquiriy, and the need to foster science education and to fund the work of scientists to help us understand--and ultimately protect--the natural world around us.

Check out this video about the discovery of the olinguito, hosted by Rob Nelson of Untamed Science:


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David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >







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