On Thursday, researchers announced the rare discovery of a new species of mammal called the olinguito. The reddish-brown animal is about 14-inches long with an equally long tail and weighs about 2 pounds.
Somehow it was overlooked, despite being extraordinarily cute, looking like a mix between a raccoon and a cat, or a teddy bear. However, it was literally under the eyes of scientists for years.
In a case of mistaken identity,an olinguito named Ringerl once lived in the Smithsonian-run National Zoo in Washington for a year.
Before that, in 1976, Ringerl was shipped from zoo to zoo. The olinguito was transported from Louisville, Ky., to Tucson, Ariz., from Salt Lake City to Washington and New York City,in an attempt to breed it with other olingos.
It was all to no avail, though, as Ringerl was not an olingo, but was, in fact, an olinguito.
Despite the olinguito’s beauty, according to Kristofer Helgen, the Snithsonian’s curator of mammals:
It’s been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time.”
One possible explanation for why the olinguito went undiscovered for so long is that, for years, it was mistaken for another mammal, the olingos. However, other than the somewhat similar spellings, the two animals are markedly different from one another.
Olinguitos belong to a group of mammals that also contain dogs, cats, and bears. They are about 14-inches long with a tail that’s as long as their bodies, weigh about 2 pounds, and have reddish-brown fur.
Olinguitos are smaller than olingos, have shorter tails, a rounder face, tinier ears and darker bushier fur, according to Helgen.
A native of the mountainous forests of Ecuador and Columbia, the olinguitos leap through the trees at night.
It wasn’t because of their rarity that the olinguitos weren’t identified any sooner. The research team that went out to find them saw one on the very first night, and Helgen estimates that there were thousand of them in the tree.
According to the study’s co-author, Roland Kays of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences:
When we went to the field we found it in the very first night. It was almost like it was waiting for us.”
Want to get your very own olinguitos? Then go to the North Carolina museum website. already selling olinguito stuffed animals for about $15, with all of the proceeds benefiting the habitat preservation for the creatures.
The new mammal discovery was the first new one discovered for over 35 yeas. The olinguitos, one of nature’s cutest animals, somehow hadn’t been discovered until recently. Now, the animal has figuratively been thrust forward into a circle, surrounded by media wolves, put into the spotlight for the world to read about.
Written by: Douglas Cobb