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New kid in the mammal block

The discovery of an ‘overlooked’ mammal living in the cloud forests of Columbia and Ecuador is a welcome and refreshing news, not only in the domain of scientific exploration and milestones in zoology, but also, as the newest member to recognized by their human brethren, olinguito, as the animal has been named, would help deepen understanding of how evolution takes place. Olinguito is the first new species of carnivore to be identified in the Western hemisphere in 35 years, and it has taken over a decade’s hard work by the scientists to identify the new species, a rare feat in the 21st century.

It is to the incredible credit of a team hailing from the Smithsonian Institution, Chicago, that the new mammal has been found, with its bones, skull and skin indicating a curious anatomy. Olinguito looks like a cross between a bear and a raccoon, and can compete with the pandas in the beauty quotient, to say the least. The curators of mammals at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, which houses the largest mammal collection in the world, have been delighted at the discovery, which has the potential to shed light on the adaptive mechanisms used by carnivorous mammals over the eons of evolution, including cats, dogs, bears and their relatives.

While the scientific name of olinguito is Bassaricyon neblina, it is a wonderful addition to the recent zoological discoveries, such as the Colombian Weasel or the world’s smallest bandicoot. The spate of discovery, however, continues with the findings corresponding with 160-million year old mammalian ancestor, a denizen of the Jurrasic era, which is now being touted as one of evolution’s most successful mammals. The fossil of this rodent like creature is helping explain how multituberculates, the most evolutionarily successful and long-lived mammalian lineage in the fossil record, achieved their dominance. Evidently, it looks like if one were a mammal, whether extant or extinct, it is a jolly good time to become taxonomic trophy-finds.  

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