For all of modern history, a small, carnivorous South American mammal in the raccoon family has evaded the scientific community. Untold thousands of these red, furry creatures scampered through the trees of the Andean cloud forests, but they did so at night, hidden by dense fog. Nearly two dozen preserved samples—mostly skulls or furs— were mislabeled in museum collections across the United States. There’s even evidence that one individual lived in several American zoos during the 1960s—its keepers were mystified as to why it refused to breed with its peers.
Now, the discovery of the olinguito has solved the mystery. At an announcement today in Washington, D.C., Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, presented anatomical and DNA evidence that establish the olinguito (pronounced oh-lin-GHEE-toe) as a living species distinct from other known olingos, carnivorous tree-dwelling mammals native to Central and South America. His team’s work, also published today in the journal ZooKeys, represents the first discovery of a new carnivorous mammal species in the American continents in more than three decades.
Although new species of insects and amphibians are discovered fairly regularly, new mammals are rare, and new carnivorous mammals especially rare.
I’m out…suddenly craving a burger or three.