Are we building our way to ruin?

The Housing Bomb: Why Our Addiction to Houses Is Destroying the Environment and Threatening Our Society

NC State’s Nils Peterson explores the environmental and societal impact of the modern subdivision.

Are we building our way to ruin? That’s the premise of a provocatively titled new book released this month: The Housing Bomb: Why Our Addiction to Houses Is Destroying the Environment and Threatening Our Society.

Lead author Dr. Nils Peterson, associate professor of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology in NC State’s College of Natural Resources, focuses his research on the intersections between human and natural systems, including the modern subdivision.

For an insider’s look at The Housing Bomb, check out this interview with Dr. Peterson in The Abstract.

NC State Scientist Among Team that Discovers New Species of Carnivore

Species is First Find of Its Kind in More Than Three Decades

Observed in the wild, tucked away in museum collections, and even exhibited in zoos, there is one mysterious creature that has been a victim of mistaken identity for more than 100 years.

Dr Roland Kays presents teh discovery

Dr Roland Kays shares the olinguito discovery in a press conference at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

A team of scientists – including Roland Kays of North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences – uncovered overlooked museum specimens of this remarkable animal.Their investigation eventually took them on a journey from museum cabinets in Chicago to cloud forests in South America to genetics labs in Washington, D.C.

The result: the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) ―the first carnivore species to be discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.

The team’s discovery is published in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal ZooKeys.


The olinguito (oh-lin-GHEE-toe) looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. It is actually the latest scientifically documented member of the family Procyonidae, which it shares with raccoons, coatis, kinkajous and olingos. (Olinguito means “little olingo.”)

The 2-pound olinguito, with its large eyes and woolly orange-brown fur, is native to the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador, as its scientific name, “neblina” (Spanish for “fog”), hints. In addition to being the latest described member of its family, another distinction the olinguito holds is that it is the newest species in the order Carnivora ―an incredibly rare discovery in the 21st century.

The olinguito is known so far to exisit only in cloud forest habitats in Colombia and Ecuador but future investigations might shoe that it occurs in similar habitiats in othe South American countries.“The discovery of the olinguito shows us that the world is not yet completely explored, its most basic secrets not yet revealed,” said Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and leader of the team reporting the new discovery. “If new carnivores can still be found, what other surprises await us? So many of the world’s species are not yet known to science. Documenting them is the first step toward understanding the full richness and diversity of life on Earth.”

Discovering a new species of carnivore, however, does not happen overnight. This one took a decade, and was not the project’s original goal ―completing the first comprehensive study of olingos, several species of tree-living carnivores in the genus Bassaricyon, was. Helgen’s team wanted to understand how many olingo species should be recognized and how these species are distributed ―issues that had long been unclear to scientists. Unexpectedly, the team’s close examination of more than 95 percent of the world’s olingo specimens in museums, along with new DNA testing and the review of historic field data, revealed existence of the olinguito, a  previously undescribed species.

The first clue came from the olinguito’s teeth and skull, which were smaller and differently shaped than those of olingos. Examining museum skins revealed that this new species was also smaller overall with a longer and denser coat; field records showed that it occurred in a unique area of the northern Andes Mountains at 5,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level―elevations much higher than the known species of olingo. This information, however, was coming from overlooked olinguito specimens collected in the early 20th century.

The question Helgen and his team wanted to answer next was: Does the olinguito still exist in the wild?

To answer that question, Helgen called on Roland Kays, director of the Biodiversity Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a professor in the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University, to help organize a field expedition.

“The data from the old specimens gave us an idea of where to look, but it still seemed like a shot in the dark,” Kays said. “But these Andean forests are so amazing that even if we didn’t find the animal we were looking for, I knew our team would discover something cool along the way.”

The team had a lucky break that started with a camcorder video. With confirmation of the olinguito’s existence via a few seconds of grainy video shot by their colleague Miguel Pinto, a zoologist in Ecuador, Helgen and Kays set off on a three-week expedition to find the animal themselves. Working with Pinto, they found olinguitos in a forest on the western slopes of the Andes, and spent their days documenting what they could about the animal – its characteristics and its forest home. Because the olinguito was new to science, it was imperative for the scientists to record every aspect of the animal. They learned that the olinguito is mostly active at night, is mainly a fruit eater, rarely comes out of the trees and has one baby at a time.

In addition to body features and behavior, the team made special note of the olinguito’s cloud forest Andean habitat, which is under heavy pressure from human development.  Computerized mapping of museum records allowed the team to estimate that 42 percent of olinguito habitat likely has already been converted to agriculture or urban areas.

“The cloud forests of the Andes are a world unto themselves, filled with many species found nowhere else, many of them threatened or endangered,” Helgen said. “We hope that the olinguito can serve as an ambassador species for the cloud forests of Ecuador and Colombia, to bring the world’s attention to these critical habitats.”

While the olinguito is new to science, it is not a stranger to people. People have been living in or near the olinguito’s cloud forest world for thousands of years. And, while misidentified, specimens have been in museums for more than 100 years, and at least one olinguito from Colombia was exhibited in several zoos in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. There were even several occasions during the past century when the olinguito came close to being discovered but was not. In 1920, a zoologist in New York thought an olinguito museum specimen was so unusual that it might be a new species, but he never followed through in publishing the discovery.

Giving the olinguito its scientific name is just the beginning.

“This is the first step,” Helgen said. “Proving that a species exists and giving it a name is where everything starts. This is a beautiful animal, but we know so little about it. How many countries does it live in? What else can we learn about its behavior? What do we need to do to ensure its conservation?”

The team is already planning its next mission into the clouds.

Watch the Untamed Science Video about the Olinguito

See the Olinguito in this Untamed Science Video


Participate in the Live Bilingual Google Hangout – Friday 8/16/2013

Read New Carnivore in Cloud Forest in the NC State Abstract Research Blog
Media Contacts:
D’Lyn Ford   NC State Uuniversity

Emelia Cowans  NC Museum of Natural Sciences


CNR helps NCSU Break Fundraising Record

NC State University fundraising efforts hit record breaking levels for fiscal year 2012-2013 with gifts and pledges totalling $198.2 million – a 78% increase over the previous year.  Cash in the door jumped 27 percent to $127.6 million. Fundraising for the endowment was off the charts, raising nearly $130 million. And the annual giving program surpassed 2011-12 by 7 percent, collecting nearly $2 million.

Donations to the College of Natural Resources grew 263% over the previous year to $9 million.  The total is due in part to a soon-to-be-announced $7 million gift from a donor who isn’t even an alumnus, just a committed wildlife enthusiast who believes in the work the college is doing.

Donor support is critical as the university faces an expected 5 percent cut in state funding this year just as it begins to implement an ambitious strategic plan that calls for investments in faculty and infrastructure to improve student success, confront society’s grand challenges and drive economic development.

Learn more >>


Kays’ Bird Migration Research Featured on

Roland Kays with GPS Tracker

The GPS units allow researchers to track not only the start and ending locations, but all the points along the migration path.

Wildlife researcher, Roland Kays’ is part of a team of biologists featured recently in a video on

The video, shot at the Pine Island Sanctuary and Audubon Center in Corolla, NC,  highlights bird migration research methods.

“Everyone knows that birds migrate north in the spring and south in the fall. It seems like common knowledge now but how do we know that? Truth is, we know it because scientists have been studying migration. Yet, it’s not as simple as it might seem.

In the past, migration studies have either been a result of seeing birds show up in new areas, or putting little tags on a bird’s foot and finding it later in other places. But now, we have the ability to put satellite tags on migrating birds.

In this weekly, we follow a small group of biologists to see what it’s really like to study a problem like this in the field.”

Watch the video

Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology – July Issue of Newsletter Released

FWCB V10N2 NewsletterDon’t miss the July issue of the Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Newsletter!

Featured in this issue:

  • 2013 Spring Graduates
  • Student Abstract: Kimberly Porter
  • Research Spotlight: Sarah Fritts
  • Duke Marine Lab Field Trip
  • The latest list of Publications and Presentations

See the this latest issue as well as archived issues at