The Latest Mammalian Species Discovered
Ancient scientists must have had much more work than their modern colleagues, as there were a plethora of undiscovered phenomena, laws of nature, animal species, and so on. Along with scientific and technological progress, people continued to believe in manticoras, chimeras, werewolves, and other mythical creatures. The ancient Chinese manuscript Zuo Zhuan contains descriptions of the Qilin—a creature with a body of a deer, the head of a lion, green scales, and a long horn. Today, new animals are rarely discovered; however, it looks like even in the 21st century, with GPS and satellites, nature still can surprise us. In August of 2013, a new carnivorous mammalian species was discovered: the olinguito.
An olinguito (or Bassaricyon neblina in Latin) has been classified in the family of procyonidae; the most well-known representative of this family is a raccoon. The discovery of olinguitos, made by Smithsonian scientist Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, is in fact a rare occasion, as almost 35 years have passed since the last time another carnivorous species had been discovered in both North and South Americas (CNN). Olinguito share about 90 percent of their DNA with olingos—their “sister” species—but still remain a unique carnivore specimen (Time).
An olinguito can be considered the smallest representative of the raccoon family. It is jokingly described by scientists as a “cross between a house cat and a teddy bear” (Newsdesk), and weighs about two pounds, while being no bigger than 2.5 feet long. Since olinguitos are nocturnal creatures, they have large eyes that help them navigate in the dark. Olinguitos reside in the misty forests of the South American Andes located in 5,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level, and live in the treetops—they can move through the forests by jumping from one tree to another; perhaps, this is one of the reasons why they have remained unclassified by science for such a long time.
Olinguitos primarily eat fruits, but also feed on insects, which gives a reason to classify these animals as carnivores. According to Helgen, there seems to exist four subspecies of olinguitos that differ mostly by color (their fur can be of different shades of reds, orange and browns) and by the area of the Andes which they inhabit. Helgen said that the discovery of the olinguito is rather unusual: “I honestly think that this could be the last time in history that we will turn up this kind of situation—both a new carnivore, and one that’s widespread enough to have multiple kinds” (Smithsonian.com).
According to the descriptions provided by scientists, olinguitos seem to be cute carnivorous creatures belonging to the raccoon family that have been discovered last year. They are rather small—about 2.5 feet long and weighing only 2 pounds—and feed primarily on fruit, though insects also make a part of their diet. They inhabit the misty forests of South America and are nocturnal creatures, which results in the large size of their eyes. There seem to exist four subspecies of olinguito, differing only in fur color and regions of the Andes which they inhabit. It has been a long time since scientists have discovered a rare mammalian species and it might be even longer until the scientific community happens upon a new one.
- Landau, Elizabeth. “Olinguito the Newest Rare Mammal Species Discovery.” CNN. Cable News Network, 16 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Dec. 2013.
- Walsh, Bryan. “Hola, Olinguito! The Smithsonian Discovers a New Mammal.” Time. N.p., 15 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Dec. 2013.
- “Smithsonian Scientists Discover New Species of Carnivore.” Newsdesk: Newsroom of the Smithsonians. N.p., 15 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Dec. 2013.
- Stromberg, Joseph. “For the First Time in 35 Years, A New Carnivorous Mammal Species Is Discovered in the Americas.” Smithsonian.com. N.p., 15 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Dec. 2013