Archive for the ‘Carnivorans’ Category
By Jean-Baptiste Oudry.
As long-time readers of this blog know, I am a nerd when it comes to the order Carnivora, and today was a very good day for all carnivoran nerds: the discovery of a new species was announced!
It is a procyonid, a member of the “raccoon family.” In English, this is the best way to describe the family. The northern raccoon is the best known species in the family, but the truth is there are many other species. In the US, we actually have three species of procyonid: the aforementioned northern raccoon, the white-nosed coati, and the ringtail.
Into Central and South America, there are more species. In South America, there are three additional species of coati and the crab-eating raccoon, which also ranges up into Panama and Costa Rica. And there is another species of ring-tail called the cacomistle.
Those are just the big ones. The raccoon family also includes some smaller ones that live entirely in trees. You may have never heard of them, and they look so strange that the early naturalists had a hard time describing exactly what they were– and as we’ll see, they still do today.
Probably the best known of these “weird ones” is the kinkajou The only reason you might have heard of the kinkajou is that Paris Hilton had pet one that bit her. It is almost impossible to find a source in the popular press that correctly identifies what a kinkajou is. Almost every source says it’s some kind of monkey.
As carnivorans go, it is a very primate-like one, and this similarity further exacerbated with the kinkajou’s prehensile tail. The only other carnivoran with a prehensile tail is the binturong, a type of civet, which is native to Southeast Asia. Kinkajous live high up in the trees in Central and South American forests and live almost exclusively on fruit, which also makes them seem more like monkeys.
But among the lesser known species of procyonid that look a lot like kinkajous without prehensile tails. These are the olingos, and until today, there were only five species. At one time, it was believe that olingos were just less-derived cousins of the kinkajou, but it turns out that the animals aren’t closely related at all. Though all the olingos and the kinkajou are procyonids, genetic evidence shows kinkajous are a very primitive lineage of the family, and the olingos share a common ancestor with coatis. Olingos likely evolved a similar morphology to kinkajous through what is called parallel evolution is when two species split from a common ancestor but then evolve morphological or behavioral similarities due to being adapted to similar niches. The trenchant heel dentition that bush dogs share with African wild dogs and dholes is a good example of parallel evolution. The physical similarity between thylacines and wolves is convergent evolution, which when two quite unrelated species evolve similarities in morphology and behavior. The kinkajou’s prehensile tail, which shares with several species of New World monkey, is also an example of convergent evolution
Olingos are not well-studied. After all, it’s pretty hard to study animals that live high up in the canopies of trees and only come out at night.
So it was not surprising to me that a new species of olingo was finally documented this week.
This discovery actually didn’t happen in Ecuador or Colombia’s cloud forests, where these unusual olingos are native. Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian Musem of Natural History, happened upon some museum specimens at Chicago’s Field Museum in 2003. Helgen was interested in exploring olingo taxonomy, and he wanted to examine different specimens to get an idea if scientists have missed any morphological distinctiveness in their specimens. Olingo taxonomy is a mess. No one knows how many species there actually are.
It took ten years and the collection of DNA samples from a variety different olingo specimens, but now this new species of olingo has been identified. One of the most interesting parts of the story is that the only olingo sample with GenBank is of a weird individual that was imported to the US through a Colombian dealer. This olingo was smaller and would not mate with any of the other captive olingos with which it was caged, which is probably why its DNA was sent to GenBank. This animal’s name was Ringerl, and she was kept at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. for a short time (Roland Kays, who was part of this study and is best-known on this blog for being part of the study that debunked the red wolf taxonomic status, tells her story here.)
These animals share only 90 percent of their DNA with other olingos, the species with which it was thought to belong.
This new species is called the olinguito, which has the Spanish diminutive suffix. It’s a somewhat smaller than the other olingos. Indeed, it is now the smallest species of procyonid.
Museum specimens hide a lot of stories.
We just missed a species for a long time. GeneBank and the museums held a mystery that just simply wasn’t known.
This raccoon has been feeding on the frogs that have been metamorphosing in the ditches along this old access road. The tracks are much smaller than normal, so it’s likely that these tracks belong to one of this year’s kits.
Those tracks are pretty clear, but if you look to the lower right, you can see the tracks of a red fox, likely those of a large dog fox. Red foxes are such efficient movers compared to most domestic dogs, they will often step into the tracks left by their front feet with their hind feet, leaving behind double tracks like this one.
Yes. Indiana, not India.
ABC News reports:
An Indiana woman trying to protect her cats from wild animal attacks was stunned to discover that the animal she and her boyfriend shot, thinking it was a bobcat prowling in her backyard, was actually a leopard, and now authorities are trying to determine how it got there.
Officials at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources confirmed that a leopard, which is not native to North America — let alone Indiana — was found at the woman’s residence in Charlestown. The DNR is investigating where the animal might have come from.
Donna Duke, a friend and neighbor of the woman who found the leopard, told ABC affiliate WDRB-TV in Louisville, Ky., that the woman had been concerned about her cats after a spate of attacks on pets in her area..
“She’s got cats that are basically her family,” Duke told WCRB.
According to Duke, the woman and her boyfriend stayed up all night Thursday to determine whether there was a bobcat loose in their area. When they saw the big cat in the woods at the edge of her property, the woman’s boyfriend shot and killed the animal before it could get any closer, not realizing it was a leopard.
Residents of Indiana are allowed to own exotic large cats but they must have a permit. The owner of a local wildlife refuge center located near the woman’s home told WDRB-TV that none of his animals were missing.
There are Alien Big Cats out there, but to prove their existence, we need a body. These bodies are strangely lacking in the UK, where there is a strong cultural tradition of big black cats. Americans own lots of inappropriate wildlife. Many states, including Indiana, really don’t regulate the ownership of these animals.
After all, Indiana and most other states like it assume that their citizens have some common sense!
I don’t think there is a freely breeding population of leopards in Indiana or Kentucky, but it is possible that an escapee can last a while out in the bush.
And long-time readers of the blog know that I once made a comparison between letting pet cats wander and turning out a leopard into a neighborhood.
When this actually happened, you can see what the reaction was.
The leopard wound up dead.
There is now a lot of discussion in many states and at the federal level about how to regulate private ownership of big cats.
Some people want it banned entirely– which I think sounds good in theory.
But there are so many privately owned big cats in America that it is going to be next to impossible to regulate anything.
A ban will work about as well as a ban on marijuana or booze.
It could actually make things worse.
People could start turning their animals out into the wild, or moving so far back into remote areas with them that the cats never see a veterinarian and get proper care or housing.
What we need is an effective regulatory regime.
I don’t know why people want to own animals like leopards. but they do.
And maybe the best course of action is to find commonsense regulations on their ownership.
At very least, there should be prison time for anyone who intentionally releases one of these animals into wild.
These animals deserve so much better, but we need to think it through.
Good intentions can occasionally bring about very negative unforeseen consequences.
I don’t the North America needs a population of freely breeding leopards running around.
But we could get it if we don’t carefully consider how we are going to regulate their ownership.
Some might doubt whether these animals could survive long enough in the wild to become proficient hunters of deer, but the truth is this one was hunting house pets– much easier prey.
It’s very sad that this poor leopard lost its life. When it is fully examined, my guess is that they will find that it only recently escaped or was released from the wild.
It’s a strange animal to keep as a pet.
But people have always tried to tame the big Carnivorans.
We managed to domesticate only one.
And some people just won’t give up, no matter how many dogs and cats and kids get killed.