The Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) was formally described by Helgen et al. (2013) as part of a broader taxonomic review of the genus Bassaricyon (the olingos).
The Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) was not formally described as a distinct species until 2013, at which time it became not only the most recently described olingo (as species in the genus Bassaricyon are generally known), but also the first carnivore species to be described from the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.
Olinguitos are found in the wet Andean cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador, a habitat association that is referenced by the specific epithet neblina, derived from the Spanish word for fog. Like other olingos, they are arboreal and mainly nocturnal and found in forests of the northern Neotropics. Along with the several other species in the genus Bassaricyon, the Olinguito is a member of the New World mammal family Procyonidae, which also includes the Kinkajou (Potos flavus) and several species of raccoons (Procyon), coatis (Nasua and Nasuella), and ringtails (Bassariscus). At just under a kilo (around two pounds), with a head and body length of around 355 mm (about 14 inches) plus a measured tail length of 335 to 424 mm (around 13 to 17 inches), the Olinguito is the smallest procyonid. Males and females are similar in size.
The first evidence of the distinctiveness of the Olinguito came from analyses of old museum specimens undertaken as part of a broad study of olingo diversity (Helgen et al. 2013). Some specimens examined were found to differ from known olingos in a number of features, including (among others) their smaller and differently shaped skull and teeth, their overall smaller size, their different body proportions, their more rounded face with a blunter and less tapering muzzle, their smaller and more heavily furred external ears, their longer and denser and more colorful coat, and their occurrence at elevations much higher than those at which olingos were known to live (olingos were previously unknown from above 2000 meters, whereas the Olinguito has been documented from elevations between 1500 and 2750 meters). Helgen et al. (2013) discuss the discrimination of the Olinguito in detail. An expedition to search for these distinctive olingos in the wild was successful and field studies revealed basic information about their biology.
Interestingly, the discoverers of the Olinguito noted that specimens had been in museum cabinets for more than a century, that the karyotype had been published, and that Olinguitos had been previously included in published molecular phylogenetic studies--all under other names. A female Olinguito from near Cali, Colombia, was apparently exhibited at the Louisville Zoo, National Zoo, Tucson Zoo, Bronx Zoo, and possibly Salt Lake City Zoo (all in the United States) during the late 1960s and 1970s and consistently failed to breed with other captive olingos--with hindsight, it now seems likely that this breeding failure was because the other olingos belonged to different species. This individual reportedly made vocalizations different from those of other olingos (Poglayen-Neuwall 1976, cited in Helgen et al. 2013). Other Olinguitos may also have been (unknowingly) exhibited in zoos over the years. Evidence from a specimen label at the American Museum of Natural History in New York indicates that at least one zoologist in the early 20th century believed that an Olinguito museum specimen was so unusual that it might represent a new species, but no species description was ever published. The mammal order Carnivora is generally considered to be among the most taxonomically well known groups of organisms, making the discovery of new carnivores especially noteworthy. The Olinguito was presumably overlooked by taxonomists for several reasons, including its nocturnal and arboreal habits, its relatively limited geographic distribution, and the fact that only a small number of specimens have been collected (and these specimens are scattered among various museum collections).
Olinguitos eat mainly fruit, but may also consume some insects and nectar. They are apparently largely solitary and females are believed to raise just a single offspring at a time. They are adept jumpers, leaping from tree to tree in the forest canopy. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that the Olinguito is the evolutionary sister group to all the other olingos.
The Olinguito is known only from high elevation cloud forests of the northern Andes Mountains, in Ecuador and Colombia. The future of the Olinguito may be precarious. The researchers reporting its discovery estimated that 42% of suitable historic Olinguito habitat had already been converted to agriculture or urban areas and an additional 21% remained in natural but largely unforested conditions, highlighting the importance of protecting what remains of the special cloud forest habitat that is so critical to the survival of this and many other species (Helgen et al 2013 and references therein). It is perhaps noteworthy that the last new New World carnivore to be described prior to the Olinguito, the Colombian Weasel (Mustela felipei), was described in 1978 from similar habitat in the same region of the Andes.
(Helgen et al. 2013 and references therein)
According to the original species description in 2013, Olinguitos ( Bassaricyon neblina) were known to be present only in the Andean cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador, although further investigations could reveal their presence in other countries (Helgen et al. 2013).
At just underr a kilo (around two pounds), with a head and body length of around 355 mm (about 14 inches) plus a measured tail length of 335 to 424 mm (around 13 to 17 inches), the Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) is the smallest procyonid. Males and females are similar in size. Helgen et al. (2013) detail the differences between Olinguitos and other olingos.
According to the original species description in 2013, Olinguitos (Bassaricyon neblina) were known to be present only in the Andean cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador, although further investigations could reveal their presence in high elevation forests in other countries (Helgen et al. 2013).
Life History and Behavior
Olinguitos (Bassaricyon neblina) are believed to be solitary, with females raising just a single offspring at a time (Helgen et al. 2013).
The Olinguito is known only from high elevation cloud forests (between 1500 and 2750 meters) of the northern Andes Mountains in Ecuador and Colombia. The future of the Olinguito may be precarious. The researchers reporting its discovery estimated that 42% of suitable historic Olinguito habitat had already been converted to agriculture or urban areas and an additional 21% remained in natural but largely unforested conditions, highlighting the importance of protecting what remains of the special cloud forest habitat that is so critical to the survival of this and many other species (Helgen et al 2013 and references therein). It is perhaps noteworthy that the last new New World carnivore to be described prior to the Olinguito, the Colombian Weasel (Mustela felipei), was described in 1978 from similar habitat in the same region of the Andes.
The olinguito is distinct from the other species within the genus, popularly known as "olingos", and also from the kinkajou (kinkajous resemble olingos, but are not closely related). Its average weight is 900 grams (2 lb), making it the smallest procyonid. The animal is an omnivorous frugivore that eats mainly fruits (such as figs), but also insects and nectar resulting in feces the size of small blueberries. The olinguito is thought to be solitary, nocturnal:29:30 and moderately reclusive. Olinguitos appear to be strictly arboreal. They have a single pair of mammae, and probably produce a single offspring at a time.
Distribution and habitat
Specimens of the species have been identified from the Andean cloud forest stretching from western Colombia to Ecuador. Its discovery was confirmed in the wild and announced on 15 August 2013. The species is not considered to be immediately at risk, but it is estimated that over 40 percent of the animal's potential range has been deforested.
Its discovery was announced on 15 August 2013 by Kristofer Helgen, the curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, olingo expert Roland Kays of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and collaborators. Helgen discovered specimens of the species in storage at The Field Museum in Chicago and used DNA testing to confirm a new species.
The researchers who identified the species were unable to discover any local names specific to it.
The discovery was the first identification of a new mammal species of the order Carnivora[note 1] in the Americas in 35 years. Olinguitos were regularly seen and even publicly exhibited decades before they were recognized as members of a new species. The animal had previously been confused with its taxonomic cousins, the olingos. One such example was Ringerl, an olinguito who lived in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., for a year and also toured many other zoos. Researchers unsuccessfully tried to breed her with olingos, not realizing she was a different species. Ringerl died in 1976.
The olinguito is smaller than the other species in the genus Bassaricyon. It is also much furrier, has a different tooth configuration, a shorter tail, and smaller ears. The olinguito is found in the northern Andes at altitudes between 1,500 and 2,750 metres (4,920 and 9,020 ft) above sea level, which is much higher than the habitats for other olingos.
Comparison of DNA from two olinguito subspecies to other olingo and related species was carried out on the basis of genetic dissimilarity derived from Kimura modeling of differences in base-pair composition of mitochondrial cytochrome b. The genetic divergence between olinguitos and other olingos makes olinguitos a sister lineage to the rest of the genus, and is equivalent to differences between species which have been assigned to separate subgenera or genera. This split apparently occurred about 3.5 million years ago, suggesting that the earliest diversification of the genus took place in northwestern South America shortly after the ancestors of olingos first invaded the continent from Central America as part of the Great American Interchange.
- Borenstein, Seth (15 August 2013). "Adorable New Mammal Species Found 'In Plain Sight'". ABC News. Archived from the original on 16 August 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
- Koepfli, Klaus-Peter; Gompper, Matthew E.; Eizirik, Eduardo; Ho, Cheuk-Chung; Linden, Leif; Maldonado, Jesus E.; Wayne, Robert K. (2007). "Phylogeny of the Procyonidae (Mammalia: Carnivora): Molecules, morphology and the Great American Interchange". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 43 (3): 1076–95. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.10.003. PMID 17174109.
- Helgen, K. M.; Pinto, M.; Kays, R.; Helgen, L.; Tsuchiya, M.; Quinn, A.; Wilson, D.; Maldonado, J. (15 August 2013). "Taxonomic revision of the olingos (Bassaricyon), with description of a new species, the Olinguito". ZooKeys 324: 1–83. doi:10.3897/zookeys.324.5827.
- Stromberg, Joseph (15 August 2013). "For the First Time in 35 Years, A New Carnivorous Mammal Species is Discovered in the American Continents". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
- O'Brien, Jane (15 August 2013). "Olinguito: 'Overlooked' mammal carnivore is major discovery". BBC News. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
- Roland Kays. Press conference at North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Livestream (video). 15 August 2013 
- Landau, Elizabeth (15 August 2013). "New cute furry mammal species discovered". CNN. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
- Kim, Meeri (16 August 2013). "Smithsonian unearths a new species of mammal: The olinguito". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- CBC news. New mammal discovered in Andean cloud forest
- "New animal discovered in Andes". WRAL. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- "A new mammal. Peekaboo". The Economist. 17 August 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
- Sample, Ian. Carnivore 'teddy bear' emerges from the mists of Ecuador. Guardian. Thursday 15 August 2013