North Carolina scientist among team that identifies new species

The olinguito looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. (Photo courtesy of North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences)

August 15, 2013 9:39:04 AM PDT
A team of scientists that included the director of the Biodiversity Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and professor in the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University, have identified a new species of carnivore.

Roland Kays was part of the team that uncovered overlooked museum specimens of the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) -- the first carnivore species to be discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.

The 2-pound olinguito, which means "little olingo," looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear.

It is actually the latest scientifically documented member of the family Procyonidae, which it shares with raccoons, coatis, kinkajous and olingos, and is native to the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador -- as its scientific name, "neblina" (Spanish for fog), hints.

In addition to being the latest described member of its family, another distinction the olinguito holds is that it is the newest species in the order Carnivora - an incredibly rare discovery in the 21st century.

While the olinguito is newly named, it is no stranger to people. People have been living in or near the olinguito's cloud forest world for thousands of years. And, while misidentified, specimens have been in museums for more than 100 years, and at least one olinguito from Colombia was exhibited in several zoos in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s.

There were even several occasions during the past century when the olinguito came close to being discovered but was not. In 1920, a zoologist in New York thought an olinguito museum specimen was so unusual that it might be a new species, but he never followed through in publishing the discovery.

The team's, which includes Kays, discovery is published in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal ZooKeys.

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