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NC State professor aids discovery of adorable new mammal species

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© NC Museum of Natural Sciences © NC Museum of Natural Sciences

A team of scientists has uncovered the first carnivore species to be discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years. And the team includes a professor from N.C. State University.

It's called an "olinguito" (oh-lin-GHEE-toe), which means "little olingo." It looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. It's the latest scientifically documented member of the family Procyonidae, officials said. It's related to raccoons, coatis, kinkajous and olingos.

The creature also reportedly had a mistaken identity for 100 years. Scientists, including Roland Kays, of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a professor at North Carolina State University, uncovered overlooked museum specimens of this remarkable animal.

The team's discovery is published in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal ZooKeys.

The 2-pound olinguito, with its large eyes and woolly orange-brown fur, is native to the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador, as hinted at in its scientific name, "neblina" (Spanish for "fog").

"The discovery of the olinguito shows us that the world is not yet completely explored, its most basic secrets not yet revealed," Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, said in a statement. "If new carnivores can still be found, what other surprises await us? So many of the world's species are not yet known to science. Documenting them is the first step toward understanding the full richness and diversity of life on Earth."

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