Ursus inanimus

This cutie creature has been aptly described as a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear in appearance.

Photo Credit: Mark Gurney

This quote is pulled from our own Heidi Smith’s coverage of the olinguito discovery and/or reclassification1. It is based, like most of the coverage on The Smithsonian’s own description of the animal. In context, this is clearly a description of what it looks like, not an effort to ascribe the olinguito’s origins to an animate and fertile teddy bear humping a kitty.

The problem is that people don’t always remember the context; and some of those people get to talk on national morning news shows2:

While looking at The Smithsonian’s stock photo of an olinguito…

Panelist 13: “I think it is a kind of raccoon.”

Panelist 2: “I thought they said it was a combination of a teddy bear and something.”
– Representative approximation of discussion of olinguito on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”4

Panelist 1 is mostly right, though “a kind of” is not really accurate to us pedants. It is “related to”, inasmuch as I am “related to” not “a kind of” my Cousin Andy. Panelist 2 is remembering the subjective description of the olinguito.

It turns out that there is no official requirement to identify new or imagined species as hybrids between known species or stuffed animals, though this practice is widely adopted in reporting. My understanding is that centaurs and satyrs find that this kind of rhetoric diminishes and marginalizes them as discreet species worthy of respect.

I can understand why The Smithsonian used such a description. While t is superfluous if you are looking at a picture of the critter, not every news outlet is going to put up the picture of the olinguito. Wait, what am I saying? Everyone is going to use the picture, because the thing is cute as buttons. I guess there is radio? Is there still radio?

The fact that The Smithsonian was the institute that discovered the olinguito does not make its subjective, descriptive simile authoritative. That is what they thought it kinda sorta looked like. That is valid, but no more so than what you think it looks like. You are even free to think the olinguito isn’t cute, though I wouldn’t express that opinion in mixed company.

What can be stated with authority, is that this olinguito was not the product of a tawdry affair5 between a house cat (Felis catus) and a teddy bear (Ursus not a living thing, it’s a freaking stuffed animal6). Like all olinguitos, the olinguito in the press release picture was the product of a tawdry affair between two olinguitos and that is good enough for me.

1. The internets also appear to be in strong agreement that the phrase “new species discovered” should only be used in cases where a bearded, white male swinging a machete stumbles into a rain forest clearing and goes “What the hell is that thing!?” To which, his indigenous guide, who has seen this new creature every day of his life replies, “A goddamn pest. That’s what that is.” Said pest is then photographed, captured/killed, and given a name in bastardized Latin honoring the “discoverer’s” thesis mentor. Use of any other data or analytical methods does not count.
2. This is why I try to avoid news shows on TV. Every time I watch something like this happens. I think it is them, not me.
3. I’m not being discreet by not naming names. The panelists were talking over the olinguito visual and I cannot identify them by voice (see Note 2).
4. “Lean Forward, but not too far. You don’t want to fall over and break your nose. Or a hip. Speaking of falling over and breaking a hip, did you know that Life Alert is one of our advertisers? They’re great.”
5. Out of an abundance of caution, I strongly suggest that you do not Google Image Search for any variation on the phrase “house cat teddy bear mating”. Rule 34 people. Rule 34.
6. Ursus inanimus

Author: Josh Witten


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