Meet the Olinguito, America’s Cute New Mammal

The discovery of new mammals is quite rare, but the olinguito escaped scientific attention while hiding in plain sight. A number of specimens already existed in field museum collections, but were previously thought to belong to the olingo, a related species.

Researcher Kristofer Helgen describes coming across an olinguito (pronounced oh-lin-GHEE-toe) specimen to Smithsonian magazine:

“At the Chicago Field Museum, I pulled out a drawer, and there were these stunning, reddish-brown long-furred skins,” he said. “They stopped me in my tracks—they weren’t like any olingo that had been seen or described anywhere.” The known species of olingo have short, gray fur. Analyzing the teeth and general anatomy of the associated skulls further hinted that the samples might represent a new species.


Mark Gurney/CC BY 3.0

Researchers spent the next several years conducting DNA tests and studying olingos and their relatives in the rain forests of Ecuador and Colombia. The team found that the olinguito is in fact a distinct species from the olingo.

Helgan and his team presented their finding in the journal ZooKeys. The raccoon-like carnivores live in the trees of the cloud forests of the Andes. They eat mostly fruit, are nocturnal and have one young at a time. Their reddish fur and smaller bodies distinguish them from olingos.

Although rarely seen, the olinguito is not considered to be endangered. However, the researchers hope that excitement about the new discovery will invigorate efforts to preserve and protect their rainforest habitat.

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By Margaret Badore

55 comments

DaleLovesOttawa O.
DaleLovesOttawa O.about a year ago

A fascinating and intriguing wild mammal.

Christine Jones
Christine J.about a year ago

So refreshing to find an animal instead of getting news that another has gone extinct. And it's a handsome creature too.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Beverly M.

What a face ~ adorable!

andrew miller
andrew miller3 years ago

Lovely creature

Laura Saxon
.3 years ago

Beautiful animal. Thanks for sharing.

Jennah F.
Jennah F.3 years ago

I'm adding my support to the comments about the dangers that sometimes arise when people see an animal as "adorable" or gush, "I want one!" on social media. I don't mean to offend anyone either, or insinuate that everyone who mentions the "cuteness" of a mammal supports the trafficking of exotic animals.
However, there is a crisis in many countries where tourists will buy animals for pets, when these creatures should be allowed to remain in their home environments. Traffickers will trap animals so that they can sell them later in countries like the United States so that for the right price, people can buy whatever exotic animal they choose.
The sloth, armadillo and anteater sanctuary AIUNAU in Colombia wisely maintains, "Carry them in your heart; leave them in the wild."

Lin M
Lin M3 years ago

He's so cute. Does he bite?

Jennifer Hebert
Jennifer Hebert3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Fi T.
Fi T.3 years ago

Guarantee its home and survival