Smithsonian scientists announce discovery of new species - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Smithsonian: Newly discovered species is 'cross between house cat and teddy bear'

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The olinguito lives in the Andes Mountains at altitudes of 5,000 to 9,000 feet. (Source: Smithsonian Institute) The olinguito lives in the Andes Mountains at altitudes of 5,000 to 9,000 feet. (Source: Smithsonian Institute)

(RNN) – The Smithsonian Institute has announced the discovery of a new species of animal it describes as a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. It is a 2-pound, big-eyed, tree-dwelling carnivore from South America and is called an olinguito.

The animal, which the Smithsonian said is the first carnivore species to be discovered in the American continents in 35 years, has actually been misidentified for decades.

But a team of Smithsonian scientists pored over museum specimens in Chicago, visited cloud forests in South America and ran tests in genetics labs in Washington, DC, to discover that the creature is a species unto itself.

The olinguito (Oh-lin-GHEE- toe) is a member of the same family as raccoons, coatis, kinkajous and olingos. It is a native of the cloud forests of Ecuador and Colombia, weighs about two pounds, has orange-brown fur and large, brown eyes. It is a carnivore, which makes it an incredibly rare discovery for this century, according to Smithsonian.

The process of discovery took about a decade.

"The discovery of the olinguito shows us that the world is not yet completely explored, its most basic secrets not yet revealed," said Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and leader of the team reporting the new discovery. "If new carnivores can still be found, what other surprises await us?"

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