Cute new critter found in South American forests
By Kerry Sheridan ,AFPWASHINGTON -- A lap-sized critter that looks like a mix between a raccoon and a teddy bear was unveiled on Thursday as the first new carnivore in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.
August 17, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
Scientists say the olinguito has actually been around for ages, in zoos, museums and in the forests of Ecuador and Colombia, but was mistaken for its larger cousin, the olingo.
A big clue that this tree-crawling animal was something unusual was that it never wanted to breed with the olingo, experts said.
The new species, named Bassaricyon neblina, is now understood to be the smallest member of the same family as raccoons, kinkajous and olingos.
With wide, round eyes and tiny claws that help it cling to branches, the olinguito can jump between trees. It feasts mainly on fruit but also eats insects.
Its discovery, which took a decade of research, is described in the August 15 edition of the journal ZooKeys.
As part of the journey, scientists realized that museum specimens of the olinguito had been collected from higher elevations — 5,000 to 9,000 feet (1,500-2,700 meters) above sea level — in the Andes Mountains than olingos were known to inhabit.
DNA analysis was also done to differentiate the olinguitos from their cousins.
The olinguito was smaller, with a differently shaped head and teeth. Its orange-brown coat was also longer and denser.
And when researchers took to the South American forests to see if the creatures were still around in the wild, they were not disappointed.
They found plenty of olinguitos in the cloud forests of the western Andes, and noted that the creatures are active at night.