Say hello to the olinguito, the first carnivorous mammal to be discovered in the Western hemisphere in 35 years. And HOLY CRAP is this thing ever cute.
It took more than a decade for Smithsonian Institute researchers to properly identify the mammal — a story that began when zoologist Kristofer Helgen found some bones and animal skins in storage at a museum in Chicago.
"It stopped me in my tracks," he told BBC News. "The skins were a rich red colour and when I looked at the skulls I didn't recognize the anatomy. It was different to any similar animal I'd seen, and right away I thought it could be a species new to science."
Indeed, it's an exceptionally rare discovery — especially in this day and age.
Called the olinguito, it's a reddish-brown animal that's about 14-inches long. It's got an equally long tail and weighs about 2 pounds. It can be found leaping through the trees of mountainous forests in Ecuador and Colombia at night. Though technically a carnivore, many species of olinguito seem to subsist on fruit. They have one baby at a time. It's now considered the smallest member of the raccoon family of mammals.
Researchers speculate that there are thousands of olinguitos spread-out across South America. But because they're shy and nocturnal, they've largely remained out of sight of scientists.
Bizarrely, an olinguito was once exhibited at a Smithsonian-run zoo in Washington for a year, but was mislabelled as an olingo.
Read the entire study at ZooKeys: "Taxonomic revision of the olingos (Bassaricyon), with description of a new species, the Olinguito."
Top image: Mark Gurney.