News speciation

Raccoon-like carnivore, olinguito, “found”

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Why the quote marks in the title? Well, it was “found” to be a different species, after decades of misclassification:

For all of modern history, a small, carnivorous South American mammal in the raccoon family has evaded the scientific community. Untold thousands of these red, furry creatures scampered through the trees of the Andean cloud forests, but they did so at night, hidden by dense fog. Nearly two dozen preserved samples—mostly skulls or furs— were mislabeled in museum collections across the United States. There’s even evidence that one individual lived in several American zoos during the 1960s—its keepers were mystified as to why it refused to breed with its peers.

Because only the animal knew that they weren’t “peers.”

Finally, someone decided to examine the different “olingos” in detail and it became evident that there was another, smaller species in the collection.

Interesting:

Olinguitos, formally known as Bassaricyon neblina, inhabit the cloud forests of Ecuador and Colombia in the thousands, and the team’s analysis suggests that they are distributed widely enough to exist as four separate subspecies. “This is extremely unusual in carnivores,” Helgen said, in advance of the announcement. “I honestly think that this could be the last time in history that we will turn up this kind of situation—both a new carnivore, and one that’s widespread enough to have multiple kinds.”

Also:

With blood samples taken from the olinguitos and several other olingos, the researchers also performed DNA analysis, finding that the animals are far more genetically distinct than first imagined. Though other olingos lived as little as three miles away, olinguitos shared only about 90 percent of their DNA with these olingos (humans share about 99 percent of our DNA with both chimps and bonobos).

Hmmm. One could dispute the 99% number and we have. But suppose they’re right. Anyone can tell the difference between a human and a chimp. Who knew the olinguitos weren’t just smallish oringos?

So, hard to say what DNA tells you and what it doesn’t. One wonders what they’ll say about it a hundred years hence.

2 Replies to “Raccoon-like carnivore, olinguito, “found”

  1. 1
    Blue_Savannah says:

    Gee, you would think if humans and chimps were only different by 1%, we would see chimps driving their own chimp-built cars, building space shuttles, composing music and literature…in other words, giving us a run for our money as to which species should be in cages at the zoo, throwing feces at each other.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Which is precisely why some of us think we don’t know enough about the true role of DNA. When do small differences make a difference? That is, when was there ever a chimp that looked and behaved like a human or versa vice?

    Meanwhile, only the olinguito knew that he’d have to spend his Saturday nights alone, when no one else could possibly have guessed how different he was from the olingoes.

    There are more question marks here than at a convention of people given new identities.

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