Saturday, November 30, 2013

From Brazil, a new breed of cat

Cryptic species (not to be confused with cryptids) are animals that look very similar but are different species.  This was often impossible to sort out with the pre-DNA morphological method of identifying species.  DNA analysis has, for example, raised important questions about how many types killer whales (Orcinus orca) there are. It has also showed us there's another species of wild cat in Brazil. The handsomely spotted, housecat-sized ocilla is not, as long presumed, one species: it has two populations that overlap ranges but never interbreed.  (This gets into the question of exactly what constitutes a species, and we're not going to wade into that swamp here).  The cats were confused not only because they look similar, but because they are rare and elusive: every photograph is news.
So we bid the world's newest cat a hearty welcome and hope its nine lives can carry it through the environmental challenges of life in a shrinking rain forest.

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