New mammal species, called adorable by some, discovered

WASHINGTON — Imagine a raccoon with a teddy bear face that is so cute it’s hard to resist, let alone overlook. But somehow science did — until now.

Researchers announced Thursday a rare discovery of a new species of mammal called the olinguito. It belongs to a grouping of large creatures that include dogs, cats and bears.

The raccoon-sized critter leaps through the trees of mountainous forests of Ecuador and Colombia at night, according to a Smithsonian researcher who has spent the past decade tracking them.

But the adorable olinguito (oh-lihn-GEE’-toe) shouldn’t have been too hard to find. One of them lived in the Smithsonian-run National Zoo in the Washington for a year in a case of mistaken identity.

“It’s been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time” despite its extraordinary beauty, said Kristofer Helgen, the Smithsonian’s curator of mammals.

The zoo’s little critter, named Ringerl, was mistaken for a sister species, the olingo. Ringerl was shipped from zoo to zoo from 1967 to 1976: Louisville, Ky., Tucson, Ariz., Salt Lake City, Washington and New York City to try to get it to breed with other olingos.

It wouldn’t.

“It turns out she wasn’t fussy,” Helgen said. “She wasn’t the right species.”

The discovery is described in a study in the journal ZooKey.

Helgen first figured olinguitos were different from olingos when he was looking at pelts and skeletons in a museum. He later led a team to South America in 2006.

“When we went to the field we found it in the very first night,” said study co-author Roland Kays of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “It was almost like it was waiting for us.”

It’s hard to figure how olingos and onlinguitos were confused for each other.

“How is it different? In almost every way that you can look at it,” Helgen said.

Olinguitos are smaller, have shorter tails, a rounder face, tinier ears and darker bushier fur, he said.

“It looks kind of like a fuzzball … kind of like a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat,” Helgen said.

It eats fruit, weighs about 2 pounds and has one baby at a time. Helgen figures there are thousands of olinguitos in the mountainous forest, traveling through the trees at night so they are hard to see.

While new species are found regularly, usually they are tiny and not mammals, the warm-blooded advanced class of animals that have hair, live births and mammary glands in females.

Outside experts said this is not merely renaming something, but a genuine new species and a significant find, the type that hasn’t happened for about 35 years.

“Most people believe there are no new species to discover, particularly of relatively large charismatic animals,” said Case Western Reserve University anatomy professor Darin Croft. “This study demonstrates that this is clearly not the case.”

More in Local News

Lynnwood robbery leads to lockdown at Edmonds schools

Edmonds police said it was just a precaution as they search around Edmonds-Woodway High School.

1 person shot in Everett thrift store parking lot

Multiple people called 911 after overhearing a loud argument and then multiple gunshots.

Marysville 7-Eleven hit by armed robbers

Officers set up a perimeter and brought in a police dog, but the man couldn’t be found.

2 women struck, injured while crossing busy roads

The first happened Wednesday night in Everett. The second was Thursday morning in Edmonds.

One dead in crash south of Granite Falls

Two cars collided near the intersection of N. Lake Roesiger Road and Hidden Valley Road.

Old Silvana Creamery recalling whole raw milk

The milk was sold at the farm store, directly to customers and at local stores.

Signs show the rates for using the express toll lanes for traffic headed southbound on Interstate 405, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Bothell, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans Tuesday to try to decrease congestion on I-405 in answer to commuter complaints that the new express lane tolling system is making traffic worse. The governor said he would not be shutting down the tolling system as some people have called for. But the state transportation department is making plans to add new northbound general purpose lanes to ease some of the congestion and also plan to make it easier to move into and out of the express lanes. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
If drivers paid even more, I-405 toll lanes might speed up

A report recommends lifting the maximum toll of $10 and varying it by segment traveled.

Departing mayor’s locally drawn portrait joins city’s pantheon

Artist Elizabeth Person’s portrait of Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson will hang with others at City Hall.

Investigation recommends girl shot by officers face charges

The teen is accused of assaulting her boyfriend and the responding police officers.

Most Read