Baby pictures, field observations fill in details of little-known raccoon relative
Juan Rendon/Mesenia-Paramillo Nature Reserve
A fluffy little animal that didn’t even have its own species name until a year ago is coming into focus. Dozens of bird watchers, scientists and others are sharing their glimpses, stories and even baby pictures of the olinguito.
In August 2013, the olinguito became the first new Western Hemisphere species in the order Carnivora to be described since the Colombian weasel in 1978 (SN Online: 8/15/13). So far, though, Bassaricyon neblina doesn’t seem to be carnivorous in diet. People who have been lucky enough to spot the animals in Columbia and Ecuador report seeing olinguitos eating fruit, says mammologist Kristofer Helgen of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. In one case, an olinguito was filmed sipping sugary fare from a hummingbird feeder.
Helgen, one of the researchers who described the new species, is not shocked. The roughly 270 species in the order Carnivora include vegetarians, such as bamboo-devouring pandas, as well as flexible eaters — among them the olingo, the olinguito’s larger cousin.
Observers have also spied olinguitos mating and even a baby tucked into a nest of leaves and soft mosses high in a tree in a Colombia preserve. “One question that was on everybody’s lips last year was: Could any animal be more adorable than the olinguito,” Helgen says. “And of course the answer is a baby olinguito.”
An olinguito grabs fruit and sips sugary water from a hummingbird feeder near an ecotourism lodge in Ecuador.
K. Helgen et al. Taxonomic revision of the olingos (Bassaricyon) with description of a new species, the olinguito. ZooKeys. Published online August 15, 2013. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.324.5827.