The Ecuadorean olinguito may be the first new carnivorous mammal to be found in the Americas in 35 years, but if the categories are widened a bit, you can find lots of cute critters that have been added to the tree of life in recent years.
For example, there's the lesula — a shy, big-eyed monkey that was described as a new primate species in September. The discoverers saw it just a few years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It went unnoticed for so long because it's found only in a dense, dark, isolated swath of rain forest that's seldom visited by scientists.
Then there's Durrell's vontsira, which was first spotted by researchers in 2004 while it was swimming in a lake, and was described as a new species in 2010. The mongoose-like mammal is found only on the island of Madagascar, and its range is so limited that it's considered "one of the most threatened" carnivores in the world, according to Conservation International.
Because of its isolation, Madagascar is a hotbed for biodiversity and novel species: The island is home to a soulful-looking lemur that was described as a potentially new primate species in 2010. Just last month, researchers identified another new species in Madagascar known as the Lavasoa dwarf lemur.
In the big picture, the olinguito is just one pretty face among thousands of new species. Arizona State University's International Institute for Species Exploration estimates that about 18,000 species are added to the master list every year. That averages out to almost 50 new species a day.
Quentin Wheeler is the institute's founding director and the author of a recently published book on recently discovered species, titled "What on Earth?" He says it's thought that our planet is home to 10 million to 12 million living species, but we've cataloged only about 2 million of them. And that's not even counting the legions of microbial species that live among us (and in us).
Time is running out for many of those species — due to habitat loss and other threats to biodiversity — and Wheeler says it's time to pick up the pace. "We are calling for a NASA-like mission to discover 10 million species in the next 50 years," he said in a news release. "This would lead to discovering countless options for a more sustainable future while securing evidence of the origins of the biosphere."
Think about that as you flip through our slideshow of cute new species, and check out our long list of other species to marvel at:
- Colorful woodlizards from Peru
- Borneo bio-hunt turns up treasures
- Strange species found in Suriname
- Taking stock of 2011's new species
- New bee or not new bee? That is the question
- 'Lost' rainbow toad rediscovered
- Froggy finds raise hopes for Haiti
- Three new frogs leap into spotlight
- Amphibians wanted ... alive
- The Amazon's amazing species
- Biological gems found in Philippines
- Madagascar offers hundreds of new species
- Scientists spot biological beauties in Bali
- RAP stars rock the animal world
- Scientists finish first sea census
- Deep-sea creatures of the Coral Sea
- The top 10 new species from 2010
- Beautiful biodiversity in Brazil
- New Guinea's 'Lost World' revisited
- Indonesia's 'Garden of Eden'
- Papua New Guinea's new species
- Marine marvels from Papua New Guinea
- Biological treasures from Borneo
- Celebrities of the Celebes Sea
- 12 froggy finds from India
- Fantastic frogs from Colombia
- Aliens lurk in Antarctic depths
- More strange species from Suriname
- Vulnerable new species in Brazil
- Discoveries from Vietnam's 'Green Corridor'
- Endangered species of the Mekong Delta
- New species from Australia's coral reefs
- Thousands of new species in ocean's depths
- Hundreds of new species amid the Himalayas
- New species found Down Under ... underground
- Top 10 oddballs of the animal world
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the NBC News Science Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding +Alan Boyle to your Google+ circles. To keep up with NBCNews.com's stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.