UK & World News
Olinguito: New Mammal Is Identified
A raccoon-sized creature with a teddy bear face has been identified as a new species of mammal.
The olinguito lives in the mountainous forests of Ecuador and Columbia, where it leaps through the trees at night.
It eats mostly fruit, weighs about two pounds (0.9kg) and is about 14in (36cm) long with an equally long tail.
The olinguito belongs to a grouping of large creatures that includes dogs, cats and bears.
The creature was known - one of them once lived at the National Zoo in Washington - but it had been mistaken for a similar animal.
"It's been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time," said Kristofer Helgen, the Smithsonian's curator of mammals who made the announcement in Washington.
The Washington zoo's olinguito, named Ringerl, was mistaken for a sister species, the olingo.
Ringerl was shipped from zoo to zoo in the US from 1967 to 1976 to try to get it to breed with other olingos - but it never did.
"It turns out she wasn't fussy," Mr Helgen said. "She wasn't the right species."
Mr Helgen first figured olinguitos were different from olingos when he was looking at pelts and skeletons in a museum. He led a team to South America in 2006.
"How is it different? In almost every way that you can look at it," he said, adding that olinguitos are smaller, have shorter tails, a rounder face, tinier ears and darker bushier fur.
"It looks kind of like a fuzzball," Mr Helgen said. "Kind of like a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat."
While new species are found regularly, discoveries of new mammals are rare.