The Olinguito, a new mammal species, was uncovered by the Smithsonian – the first discovery of a new mammal species in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.

Smithsonian zoologist Kristofer M. Helgen made the finding that the mammal could be a species that had never been recorded nearly a decade ago. He had found that this particular mammal had reddish-orange pelts, rather than the brownish pelts associated with olingos – the mammal it had been mistaken for, reported the Washington Post. Helgen also realized that this creature’s skull, compared to that of the olingo, had a shorter snout and different teeth.

After years of investigative research and DNA testing, Helgen approached zoologist and olingo expert Roland Kays for assistance in finding a live olinguito in its natural habitat. In 2006, Helgen and Kays went on an expedition to the Andes with Ecuadorian zoologist Miguel Quinto. While there, the group of researchers found the olinguito and four subspecies of the mammal that belong in the raccoon family tree.

The olinguito, prior to Helgen’s research, had been quite literally hiding in plain sight. Its remains had been stored in museum collections, it had been spotted in the wild and it was even on display at zoos around the country. The mammals’ differences, including the new creatures smaller size, had gone unreported.

The name “Olinguito” fittingly translates to “little, adorable olingo.”

– Chelsea Regan

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