A new mammal has been discovered: the South American olinguito. Weighing two pounds and looking like a cross between a "house cat and teddy bear," the animal is the newest discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years, according to Smithsonian scientists.
The rust-colored, furry mammal is the most petite member of the raccoon family and is often mistaken for an olingo. It took DNA testing for the olinguito to earn its very own species distinction.
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"In some ways, this animal was hiding in plain sight," Roland Kays, a zoologist with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, told The Washington Post
Kays, who helped discover the olinguito, said the animal's bones were mislabeled or not labeled at all for years.
The designation solved a puzzle many zookeepers found when the olinguito stubbornly refused to breed or mingle with olingos.
"(Zookeepers) thought it was just a fussy olingo, but turns out it was completely the wrong species," Smithsonian zoologist Kristofer M. Helgen told The Huffington Post
. "It looks kind of like a fuzzball ... kind of like a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat."
The Huffington Post wrote that in one case with a misidentified olinguito living at the National Zoo in Washington, zookeepers shipped out the critter, named Ringrel, to zoos in Louisville, Ky., Tucson, Ariz., Salt Lake City and New York City from 1967 to 1976 trying to get it to breed with olingos. Nothing doing.
The Washington Post said Helgen led the research on the olinguito, which is "little olingo" in Spanish.
"Getting a new scientific name out there is really fun," Helgen said to The Washington Post. "It’s almost like giving birth."
Olinguito can be found living in trees in the mountaintop trees of the Andes Mountains of South America. They eat fruits such as figs and plant nectar, but don't mind a good bug or two, according to The Washington Post.
"Most people believe there are no new species to discover, particularly of relatively large charismatic animals," Case Western Reserve University anatomy professor Darin Croft told The Huffington Post about the olinguito's finding. "This study demonstrates that this is clearly not the case."
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