August 15, 2013
"You can tell them apart by looking at almost any feature!" Kristopher Helgen, the lead scientist on the team and Director of Mammals at the Smithsonian Institute told mongabay.com. "Olinguitos are smaller than olingos, with longer, softer fur (shorter and harsher in olingos), they are more more colorful (usually reddish-brown or orange-brown in olinguitos, more brown, tan, or gray in olingos), and they have a shorter, bushier tail, smaller ears, and a more rounded face. Olinguitos have larger molars, smaller bones of the ear, and somewhat differently shaped skulls compared to olingos."
The world's newest species in the mammal order Carnivora: the olinguito. The one was photographed in the wild at Tandayapa Bird Lodge, Ecuador. Photo by: Mark Gurney.
Olinguitos are also the only one in the family that inhabit high-altitude cloud forests at 5,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level.
It's not that scientists were wholly unaware of the animal, but simply that for over a century they mixed it up with species of lowland olingos. In fact, the olinguito was even housed at U.S. zoos in the past, but was identified as an olingo. It's smaller body, distinct shape, and high-altitude habitat was simply not recognized.
Helgen and his research team first noticed distinct differences between the olinguito and its relatives in museum specimens. This discovery led Helgen to try and find living animal in the wild—if they still existed. A video captured by an Ecuadorean zoologist, Miguel Pinto, of a wild olinguito, proved a breakthrough. And soon Helgen, along with Roland Kays, with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, were on their way to Ecuador.
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|AUTHOR: Jeremy Hance joined Mongabay full-time in 2009. He currently serves as senior writer and editor. He has also authored a book.|
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