Monday, May 15, 2017

Non-Fiction Monday: The Search for Olinguito: discovering a new species by Sandra Markle

The Search for Olinguito: discovering a new species by Sandra Markle. 40 p. Millbrook Press/ Lerner Publishing Group, January, 2017. 9781512410150. (Review from purchased copy.)

I'm a great fan of Sandra Markle's work. She not only writes accessibly but beautifully about her subjects, but they are always unique and fascinating. (Great Leopard Rescue, The Great Monkey Rescue, The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats, to name but a few.)

This short book highlights and celebrates scientific curiosity. What is science, after all, but the work of curious people? People who are careful observers who also have open minds, and, in many cases in the past, a good deal of courage and commitment. (Galileo springs to mind as does Semmelweis.)

In The Search for Olinguito, scientist Kristofer Helgen, who worked for the Smithsonian and was in charge of its mammal collection, noticed that a pelt of an animal classified as an olingo looked rather different than the rest of the olingo pelts. Olingos are mammals that are related to raccoons. They live in Central and South America. (p.7) He wondered if this was just a case of specimens from different regions or whether it was a different species. Museums around the world house olingo specimens as researchers have been studying them for over a hundred years. Thus he set out on what would be a ten-plus year quest to establish the fact that there indeed was a new species in the raccoon family tree!

The storytelling is compelling here as Markle deftly explains the science; folds in past research and not only connects all the dots in Helgen's work, but brings the scientist to life. His work required a load of patience, lots of travel as well as a campout in the cloud forest in Ecuador.

Plenty of full-color photos and maps illustrate the story of scientific sleuthing in action. This is perfect for any science class or career-readyness unit and is just the ticket for getting students excited about science. Backmatter includes an author note, source notes, tips for being a science detective, a glossary and three websites and a book for further reading. The book is beautifully designed as well, with green backgrounds decorated with green leaves lending a color to the already vibrant text. 

I do have one question though - why is it that while it was the reddish fur that first attracted Helgen's attention (photo, p. 9), subsequent photos of the olinguito(s) they found in the cloud forest do not appear to have that distinctive red coat?

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