August 15, 2013
Carnivorous Mammal Discovery First In 35 Years For The Americas
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
For the first time in more than three decades, a new carnivorous mammal species has been discovered in the Western hemisphere, researchers from the Smithsonian Institution announced on Thursday.
According to Joseph Stromberg of Smithsonian.com, the creature is a member of the raccoon family known as the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), and it is native to the cloud forests of Columbia and Ecuador.
Dr. Kristofer Helgen, the curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, presented anatomical and DNA evidence establishing the existence of a new, living species distinct from other olingos, which are carnivorous tree-dwelling mammals native to Central and South America.
His team’s work appears in today’s edition of the journal ZooKeys, and according to Stromberg, it marks the first discovery of the new carnivorous mammal species in the Americas in 35 years. Furthermore, it also marks the first new carnivorous mammal identification since the discovery of the Durrell's vontsira (Salanoia durrelli), a mongoose-like creature native to Madagascar, in 2010.
It took more than a decade to identify the olinguito, which is 14 inches long, has a 13-to-17-inch tail and weighs two pounds. It has large eyes and woolly orange-brown fur; and, noted by the Smithsonian, females raise just one baby at a time.
The creature is a solitary, nocturnal animal that spends much of its time living in trees, and while it is primarily a fruit eater, it will also consume insects and nectar. It is the latest scientifically documented member of the family Procyonidae – a family that also includes raccoons, coatis, kinkajous and olingos.
“It's hard for me to explain how excited I am,” Dr. Helgen told BBC News. “The olinguito is a carnivore – that group of mammals that includes cats, dogs and bears and their relatives. Many of us believed that list was complete, but this is a new carnivore – the first to be found on the American continent for more than three decades.”
“The discovery of the olinguito shows us that the world is not yet completely explored, its most basic secrets not yet revealed,” he added in a statement. “If new carnivores can still be found, what other surprises await us? So many of the world’s species are not yet known to science. Documenting them is the first step toward understanding the full richness and diversity of life on Earth.”