New mammalian species discovered: olinguito


A small mammal with fluffy red-orange fur, a short bushy tail, and an adorable rounded face has leapt onto the raccoon family tree.

Scientists at the Smithsonian in Washington announced Thursday the discovery of a new species of mammal called the olinguito (pronounced oh-lin-GHEE-toe). If you’re a fan of long technical names, this one is Bassaricyon neblina.

Such a discovery is rare. The olinguito is the first mammalian carnivore species to be newly identified in the Americas in 35 years, according to Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. His research group’s study on the creature is being published in the journal ZooKeys.

Researchers argue that the olinguito should be considered the smallest living member of the raccoon family, which includes other animals that make us go “awww” such as coatis and kinkajous. The Smithsonian describes the olinguito’s appearance as a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear.

This animal had been seen before by humans, Helgen said, but it had been “a case of mistaken identity.”

“It was in museums, it’s been in zoos, and its DNA had even been sequenced, but no one had connected the pieces and looked close enough to realize, basically, the significance of this remarkable and this beautiful animal,” Helgen said.

Previously, scientists had assumed that olinguitos were members of their sister species, the olingos, Helgen said. Olingos are larger, less furry and have longer faces than the newly discovered species.

Helgen began his detective work in pursuit of the new species when he set out about a decade ago to comprehensive study of olingos.

Behind the scenes at the Chicago Field Museum in 2003, he remembers pulling out a drawer of skins and skulls that didn’t look like any animal he had ever seen before, or that had been reported by zoologists. The teeth and skull were smaller and shaped differently than olingos, and the coat was denser.

Records indicated to Helgen that such specimens came from the northern Andes about 5,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level, which is much higher than olingo habitats.

Helgen and colleagues worked with Miguel Pinto, a zoologist in Ecuador, who had shot a few seconds of video that appeared to depict the animal.

They teamed up in Ecuador in 2006, using Pinto’s knowledge of cloud forest habitats to pick the best spots to investigate. Cloud forests are “cloaked in fog,” Helgen said.

On their very first night on the pursuit, the team found a real, living olinguito.

Seeing the fluffy tree-dweller for the first time, Helgen felt “sheer elation, just incredible excitement but at the same time almost disbelief. This animal had been missed by everyone.”

Even people who live in the Andes had the same confusion about olinguitos being olingos, because humans don’t hunt them and the creatures stay in the trees, Helgen said.

The researchers found out that the olinguito primarily eats fruits, but also insects and nectar, and its activity is mostly at night. The animal lives in the trees and can jump from one to another. Mothers raise a single baby at a time.

At about 2.5 feet long from nose tip to tail tip, the olinguito weighs about 2 pounds and is a little smaller than a house cat.

DNA analysis confirmed that while olinguitos and olingos both belong to the raccoon family, they are “sister groups,” in the same way that humans are closely related to chimpanzees.

The olinguito’s misty high-elevation habitats in Colombia and Ecuador, and the tendency for the animal to stay in the trees, have helped keep the species relatively obscure to scientists until now, Helgen said.

It turns out, according to Helgen, there are four subspecies of olinguitos, differing in color — shades of reds, orange and browns — and size and living in various sections of the Andes.

New species of mice, bats and shrews are more commonly discovered, but these animals are tiny and hard to tell apart, Helgen said.

Prior to the olinguito, the most recent mammal to be discovered in the Americas was a small weasel from the Andes — the same area and habitat where the olinguitos live, he said.

“It shows us that there’s a long way to go to exploring the whole world, but especially maybe these cloud forests,” Helgen said. More olinguitos may be found in other South American countries with cloud forests in the future, according to the Smithsonian.

The olinguito is not yet considered an endangered species, but there are threats to its home environment, Helgen said. Many have such forests been chopped down.

“We also kind of hope that in telling this story to the world about the olinguito, that this beautiful new animal serves as something of an ambassador for those embattled cloud forest habitats.”

Helgen’s group has “discovered” the olinguito, but it been evolving as an independent species for about 3 to 4 million years, he said.

One olinguito whose history Helgen’s group studied was exhibited in the United States during its lifetime as if it were an olingo. The creature came from the mountains of Colombia to the Louisville Zoo in 1967, courtesy of a German couple with a love of raccoon family members, Helgen said. It was also in the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington and the Bronx Zoo, where it passed away.

DNA from this olinguito shows that it is clearly not an olingo, Helgen said.

The wife of the animal’s keeper told Helgen, “We always thought there was something strange about that olingo,” he said.

She told Helgen this particular animal moved from zoo to zoo because she wouldn’t breed with the olingos around her.

“It wasn’t because she was fussy, it was because she was not at all even the same species,” Helgen said.

With the olinguito research announcement, the oddball animal’s aloofness has been vindicated.

Huge new flying frog discovered in Vietnam


A NEW SPECIES OF flying frog has been discovered close to Vietnam’s largest city, surprising researchers.

Dr Jodi Rowely, a biologist from the Australian Museum who led the discovery, was stunned to find the 10cm frog less than 100km from Ho Chi Minh City, one of South East Asia’s largest urban centres with a population of over 9 million people.

“To discover a previously unknown species of frog, I typically have to climb rugged mountains, scale waterfalls and push my way through dense and prickly rainforest vegetation,” says Jodi.

“I certainly didn’t expect to find a new species of frog sitting on a fallen tree in lowland forest criss-crossed by a network of paths made by people and water buffalo, and completely surrounded by a sea of rice paddies,” says Jodi.

New amphibian found near Ho Chi Minh City
The frog is bright green with a white belly and has been named Helen’s tree frog (Rhacophorus helenae) after Jodi’s mother. The discovery was published last month in The Journal of Herpetology.

Jodi said the large frog has likely evaded biologists until now by spending most of its time out of sight, in the canopy of large trees. The frog has webbed hands and feet like parachutes, allowing it to glide from tree to tree.

To date, the species had only been found in two patches of lowland forest close to Ho Chi Minh City. Lowland forests are among the most threatened habitats in the world. In 2011 the Javan Rhino which relied on lowland forests was confirmed extinct in Vietnam.

“The new species is at great risk due to ongoing habitat loss and degradation – the greatest threat to amphibians throughout Southeast Asia – but hopefully it has been discovered just in time to help protect it,” says Jodi.

Toothy prehistoric lizard named Obamadon after smiling president


Researchers have named a newly discovered, prehistoric lizard “Obamadon gracilis” in honor of the 44th president’s toothy grin.

The small, insect-eating lizard was first discovered in eastern Montana in 1974, but a recent re-examination showed the fossil had been wrongly classified as a Leptochamops denticulatus and was in fact a new species, researchers told Reuters on Tuesday.

Obamadon gracilis was one of nine newly discovered species reported on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In naming the new species, scientists from Yale and Harvard universities combined the Latin “Obamadon” for “Obama’s teeth” and “gracilis,” which means slender.

“The lizard has these very tall, straight teeth and Obama has these tall, straight incisors and a great smile,” said Nick Longrich, a paleontologist at the school in New Haven, Connecticut.

It was believed to have lived during the Cretaceous period, which began 145.5 million years ago. Along with many dinosaurs from that era, the lizard died out about 65 million years ago when a giant asteroid struck earth, scientists say.

Longrich said he waited until after the recent U.S. election to name the lizard.

“It would look like we were kicking him when he’s down if he lost and we named this extinct lizard after him,” he said in an interview.

“Romneydon” was never under consideration and “Clintondon” didn’t sound good, said Longrich, who supported Hillary Clinton’s failed run against Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary.

Obama is not the first politician whose name has been used to help classify organisms. Megalonyxx jeffersonii, an extinct species of plant-eating ground sloth, was named in honor of President Thomas Jefferson, an amateur paleontologist who studied the mammal.

Earlier this year, researchers announced they had named five newly identified species of freshwater perch after Obama, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter and Theodore Roosevelt.

In 2005, entomologists named three species of North American slime-mold beetles agathidium bushi, agathidium cheneyi and agathidium rumsfeldi in honor of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld – the U.S. president, vice president and secretary of defense at the time.

Other celebrity names also have been used to name new species. A small Caribbean crustacean has been named after reggae icon Bob Marley, an Australian horsefly has been named in honor of hip-hop star Beyonce, and an endangered species of marsh rabbit has been named after Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner.

New monkey species discovered: Cercopithecus Lomamiensis

Scientists are claiming they have discovered a new species of monkey living  in the remote forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo — an animal  well-known to local hunters but until now, unknown to the outside world.

In a paper published Wednesday in the open-access journal Plos One, the  scientists describe the new species that they call Cercopithecus Lomamiensis,  known locally as the Lesula, whose home is deep in central DR Congo’s Lomami  forest basin. The scientists say it is only the second discovery of a monkey  species in 28 years.

In an age where so much of the earth’s surface has been photographed,  digitized, and placed on a searchable map on the web discoveries like this one  by a group of American scientists this seem a throwback to another time.

“We never expected to find a new species there,” says John Hart, the lead  scientist of the project, “but the Lomami basin is a very large block that has  had very little exploration by biologists.”

Hart says that the rigorous scientific process to determine the new species  started with a piece of luck, strong field teams, and an unlikely field sighting  in a small forest town.

“Our Congolese field teams were on a routine stop in Opala. It is the closest  settlement of any kind to the area of forest we were working in,” says Hart.

The team came across a strange looking monkey tethered to a post. It was the  pet of Georgette, the daughter of the local school director.

She adopted the young monkey when its mother was killed by a hunter in the  forest. Her father said it was a Lesula, well-known to hunters in that part of  the forest. The field team took pictures and showed them to Hart.

“Right away I saw that this was something different. It looked a bit like a  monkey from much further east, but the coloring was so different and the range  was so different,” said Hart.

The monkey to the east is the semi-terrestrial owl-faced monkey. Based on the  photos, Hart believed that their shape and size could be similar, but their  morphology or outward appearance was very distinct.

The Lesula had strikingly large, almost human like, eyes, a pink face and  golden mane. Far to the east, across several large river systems, the Owl Face  is aptly named. Its sunken eyes are set deep in a dark face, a white stripe  running down from its brow to its mouth, like a line of chalk on a  blackboard.

To a layman it looks like an open and shut case. But animals are often widely  divergent within a species — humans are an obvious example — so Hart and his  team needed science to prove their gut feeling.

“I got in touch with geneticists and anthropologists to get their advice. I  knew it was important to have a collaborative team of experts,” says Hart.

The exhaustive study took three years.

Hart’s teams set up digital sound recorders in the forests to record the  morning calls of the Owl Face and Lesula monkeys. They analyzed the ecology of  the forest and behavior of the shy and difficult to observe monkey.

Field teams collected Lesula specimens from hunters and monkeys freshly  killed by leopards and once, a crowned eagle (the field worker had to wait for  the eagle to leave its perch, says Hart). The specimens were shipped to two  research centers in the U.S and the data shared with labs across the  country.

Christopher Gilbert, an anthropologist based at Hunter College in Manhattan,  says the difference in appearance between the Lesula and Owl Face was  striking.

“After comparing the skins, we immediately concluded that this was probably  something different that we had seen before,” says Gilbert, an expert in primate  and monkey evolution.

Skulls of the Lesula and Owl Face monkey were measured with calipers and  digitally drawn in 3D. “We looked at the difference in shape and a number of  landmarks in the skulls,” says Gilbert.

While the Owl Face and Lesula had similar sized skulls, he says, the Lesula  had significantly larger orbits and several other small, but statistically  significant, differences in the hard anatomy of the skull.

The anatomical studies are backed up by genetics. Scientists at New York  University and Florida Atlantic University were able trace an ancient common  ancestor. Scientists believe the monkeys evolved separately after a series of  rivers separated their habitats.

“The clincher was that lab and field teams were able to document significant  difference in conjunction with the genetics. The monkeys were different and have  been different for a couple of million years. It demonstrates that there are  places in the world that we do not know much about,” says Gilbert.

The Lesula’s range covers an area of about 6,500 square miles (17,000 square  kilometers) between the Lomani and Tshuapa Rivers. Until recently, it was one of  the Congo’s least biologically explored forest blocks.

Hart hopes that the announcement will bring a renewed effort to save central  Africa’s pristine forests. Under threat by loggers, bush meat hunters, and weak  national governments, the forests are a potential well of important scientific discoveries, and a key linchpin of the earth’s  biodiversity.

Teresa and John Hart’s Lukuru Foundation is working with the Congolese  authorities to establish a national park in the Lomani basin before it loses its  unique biodiversity.

“The challenge now is to make the Lesula an iconic species that carries the  message for conservation of all of DR Congo’s endangered fauna,” says Hart.

And what of the first Lesula they found — Georgette’s pet. After he saw the  pictures, Hart regularly sent a team to keep track of the young Lesula’s  progress. At some point Georgette let the monkey roam free.

“It seems someone captured it,” says Hart, “it probably ended up in the  cooking pot.”

He hopes that with proper protection, the Lesula, and the rest of Lomani’s  incredible animal biodiversity, won’t suffer a similar fate.

Read more:


New type of snake discovered in Brazil


Experts came across the Atretochoana eiselti, which experts have dubbed the  “floppy  snake”, as they examined a hydroelectric dam on a river in the Amazon.

Six of the eyeless creatures — actually a family of “blind snake”  more  closely related to the salamander — were found living at the  bottom of the  Madeira River in Brazil’s northern state of Rondonia.

The discovery was made in November last year as a stretch of the river was  being drained, but was onlyrecently made public after the snake’s genus was  finally confirmed.

Julian Tupan, biologist for the Santo Antonio Energy company which is  building  the dam, told Brazil’s Estadao website that hardly anything is known  about  the lungless, limbless amphibians.

He said: “Of the six we collected, one died, three were released back into  the  wild and another two were kept for studies.

“Despite looking like snakes, they aren’t reptiles and are more closely  related to salamanders and frogs.

“We think the animal breathes through its skin, and probably feeds on  small  fish and worms, but there is still nothing proven.

Read more:

New Frog Species Found in New York City

Scientists say they have found a new type of frog living in New York City.

While new species are usually discovered in remote regions, this so-far unnamed type of leopard frog was first heard croaking on Staten Island.

Jeremy Feinberg of Rutgers University in New Jersey noticed the frogs there had a call he had never heard before.

They look identical to other species, but genetic analysis showed they are a new species of leopard frog that probably once lived in Manhattan.

While studying leopard frogs Mr Feinberg noticed that instead of the long “snore” he was expecting, he heard a short, repetitive croak.

“When I first heard these frogs calling, it was so different, I knew something was very off,” Feinberg said.

The frogs are currently found in Staten Island, mainland New York, and New Jersey, sometimes in sight of the Statue of Liberty.

The research by scientists at the University of California, Rutgers, UC Davis and the University of Alabama has been published online in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

“For a new species to go unrecognised for all this time in this area is amazing,” said Professor Brad Shaffer, one of the authors from the University of California Los Angeles.

“Many amphibians are secretive and can be very hard to find, but these frogs are pretty obvious, out-there animals,” he said.

“This shows that even in the largest city in the US there are still new and important species waiting to be discovered that could be lost without conservation.”

There are more than a dozen species of leopard frog found from Canada to central America.