A new mammal species has been confirmed by scientists, and it's already melting hearts. The olinguito, described as a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear, is the first new carnivorous mammal identified in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years, and it's considered one of the cutest scientific finds in recent memory.
Researchers first spotted the critter on a trip to Ecuador in 2006. On their very first night out into the fig tree jungle near Otonga, they saw it, but it has taken seven years to determine, genetically, how distinct it really was from the other furry mammals it resembles.
About 10 years ago, researchers began suspecting that olinguitos did exist. While rooting through some museum drawers and cabinets at the National Museum, a mammal expert at the Smithsonian Zoo noticed that a collection of bones — labeled for a family of small, furry South American mammals called olingos — didn't completely match. These raccoon-like critters, which hail from the Andean forests, hadn't been too widely studied. So the scientist decided to have a closer look.
Indeed, some of the 16 skeletons in the olingo collection were smaller boned, had larger teeth and smaller skulls. On Thursday, Kristopher Helgen, Curator of Mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of History, and his fellow scientists announced their discovery.