A new species of mammal—a pretty cute one, at that—has been discovered in the cloudy mountains of South America. Named the Olinguito, or Bassaricyon neblina, the raccoon-sized creature lives in the treetops of Colombia and Ecuador, and is the first carnivorous mammal species to be uncovered in the Americas in 35 years.
Hidden by fog and their own nocturnal habits, olinguito is unusually widely-distributed, says finder Kristofer Helgen, who presented the biological evidence establishing its status as a separate species.
"This is extremely unusual in carnivores," he told Smithsonian.com's Joseph Stromberg. "I honestly think that this could be the last time in history that we will turn up this kind of situation—both a new carnivore, and one that's widespread enough to have multiple kinds."
Confirmation of the discovery also exposes mislabeled bones and fur samples in museum collections, previously believed to be examples of other species in the Olingo family. It even appears that an individual lived at U.S. zoos in the 1960s, its unusual behavior confusing keepers.
Here's Boing Boing Science Editor Maggie Koerth-Baker:
It's kind of a big deal to identify a new carnivore in this day and age, and a nice reminder that there's still lots of Earth left to explore. At the same time, though, it's not like nobody had ever seen an olinguito before it turned up in the pages of the journal ZooKeys. In fact, the olinguito is one of those species that looks, superficially, a lot like a related-but-distinct species. In this case, the olingo. Historical records show that olinguitos have been captured before — one even lived in American zoos — but all those animals were just misidentified as olingos.
So, the olinguito is also a really good reminder that, sometimes, we don't really have to travel far afield to discover something new and fascinating. Sometimes, those things are sitting right in front of us, just waiting for us to pay a little closer attention.