Monday, August 19, 2013

First New Mammal In Decades Identified In The West: The Olinguito

New Species

The Olinguito, part of the raccoon family, is found in the South American forests of Ecuador.
Photo Credit; Mark Gurney
Source: Nature

An article, by Beth Mole, in Nature News says that researchers have identified the first new mammal in the western hemisphere in 35 years. The olinguito is found in Ecuador.

Mole writes:
The olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) is a member of the raccoon family. It looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear, say its discoverers, who publish their finding today in ZooKeys1. The zoologists first caught a glimpse of the nocturnal creature in the wild in 2006, during a night hike in Ecuador. They tracked down the 75-centimetre-long, bushy-tailed creature by sound, listening for rustling branches as it leapt from tree to tree, 30 metres above the ground in a cloud forest.
“Sometimes when you look up all you see is clouds”, says Roland Kays, zoologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh and a co-author of the study. “I think that’s part of the reason they stayed hidden from science for so long.”
The research team was tipped off to the olinguito’s existence in 2004, from decades-old museum samples stored in metal cabinets in the archives of the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Kristofer Helgen, a mammal curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, was in Chicago to study Andean mammals called olingos, which make up several species in the genus Bassaricyon. He noticed that some of the museum’s dozens of olingo specimens had smaller skulls and more colourful fur than the rest.
The article points out that museums hold many animals in their archives that have not yet been identified, collected decades ago and stored without much of a second thought. More so, it is highly likely that there are many other animals that have yet to be named, living unnoticed and unidentified in the uncultivated lands still found in South America and Africa.

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You can read the rest of the article at [Nature].

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