Mesozoic landscape in gouache paint. The Mesozoic Era spans 252-66 million years ago, famous for being the age of dinosaurs. This landscape here is a super brief summary of everything that happened in that time.
There is the ancient mammal Sinodelphis hiding amongst one of the first flowering plants Magnolia, an early bird Ichthyornis that still had teeth, and other reptiles such as the flying pterosaur Dimorphodon and the ocean dwelling Ichthyosaur.
Researchers in British Columbia have unearthed a 52 million year old fossil of the smallest hedgehog known to science.
The animal was fully grown when it died, and just two inches long – about the length of your thumb. The research team named it Silvacola acares, which means “tiny forest dweller.”
This little guy was so eensy-weensy that that his back molars were just 1 millimeter in length. His bones were so delicate that the researchers were worried his fossil would break apart if they tried to get it out of the rock.
Instead, they decided to leave the fossilized parts of the animal’s skull embedded in the rock and do a micro-CT scan on it to figure out exactly what mammal they were looking at.
“I compared the scan of his molars to hundreds of little, tiny teeth,” said Jaelyn Eberle, who studies ancient mammals at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “But before too long I realized there isn’t anything that looks exactly like this guy’s teeth.”
Finally she realized she had not just a new species, but a new genus on her hands. Eberle is the lead author of a paper describing the hedgehog, as well as a tapir-like animal that was also the found at the site, that was published Tuesday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Unfortunately, we can only get to know this mini-hedgehog through fossils. Silvacola acares lived during the early Eocene era, when the Earth was the warmest it has been since the time of the dinosaurs.
At that time, this part of British Columbia was covered by an unusual rain forest where palm trees and spruce trees stood side by side. The average temperature was probably somewhere in the mid-50s Fahrenheit. The palm trees suggest that it never got below freezing.
Eberle said the tiny hedgehog was an omnivore that probably ate insects and plants it found on the forest floor.
The Silvacola fossil was discovered in the Driftwood Creek Beds near Smithers, B.C., about 420 miles north of Vancouver. It was once the site of an ancient lake, and it is a popular place to find fossils of early Eocene era plants and insects, but the hedgehog and the tapir relative were the first mammal fossils discovered at the site.
Eberle thinks there are almost certainly more fossilized remains of mammals hidden in the rocks.
“It just wasn’t on anyone’s radar for fossil mammals, so when they found them, they were rather shocked,” she said. “I think there are more to be found; we just have to go look.”
Many, although there are similarities too, as they are both in the order
Eulipotyphla. They are related to each other; they’re in sister groups, as can be seen here (taken from Wikipedia)
This order Eulipotyphla
is one of the oldest mammalian orders, representing some of the most ancient linages of living mammals. We’re talking millions of years here!
For example the solenodon (in Solenodontidae) has been virtually unchanged for the past
Hedgehogs are in Erinaceidae and shrews in Soricidae.
A lot of people think shrews are just odd looking mice, but just like hedgehogs, they aren’t rodents! They have very sharp little teeth for eating insects and are more similar to moles (Talpidae) than mice.
So there’s differences (the quills, for example), but also similarities, like their bad eyesight. One awesome fact about shrews is some are venomous! Some species have venom glands and special grooves in their teeth for “injecting” the venom in a wound when they bite. The various types of shrew venom are currently being researched because it could possibly be used for medical treatments (against high blood pressure and cancer, for example). There are also species of shrew which use echolocation!
The adult form of Gizamon, Dunkmon! An ancient aquatic mammal who attacks with the blade attached to his tail; since I’ve realized too late that I haven’t drawn the tail in the right direction it’s a prothesis, Dunkmon can also rotate it. He’s known for his endurance rather than his speed.
In my AU, Gizamon was partnered with a kid from the first generation of Chosen Children. I hope I’ll be able to draw his next form for the Digifake week…
The Saiga Antelope is one of the world’s most ancient mammals, having shared the Earth with saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths, 250,000 years ago. Thought to be extinct at one time, they are also referred to as living fossils.
Orc subspecies! In my lore, orcs are a species of ancient eutherian mammals that radiated into several subspecies in the Western United States. They all adapted to different environments, but are perfectly capable of hybridizing and making fertile offspring. Standard orcs live in deserts, hairy orcs live in colder climates, thin orcs live in forests, goblins live in plains, giants live in mountains, and trolls live in caves deep undergound.
Ambulocetus quite literally means “walking whale”, and rightfully so as the ancient mammal is the suggested ancestor to the whales. Living around 50 million years ago, Ambulocetus was one of the biggest animals of its time, and one of the biggest successes. Ambulocetus had an immense advantage being able to walk on land and being an excellent swimmer. The hunting techniques of this primitive whale were not unlike modern crocodiles, submerging itself under the water of river banks and shorelines waiting for an unsuspecting animal to approach for a drink, then pouncing with a bone crushing bite. Once prey was locked in its jaws, Ambulocetus would pull it into the water and drown it.
Despite its appearance, Ambulocetus was already well on the way to evolving for permanent underwater living. The shape of the skull and teeth are like that of modern whales, but more intriguingly, Ambulocetus did not have ears to pick up vibrations, but instead detected them through its jaw. This form of hearing is typical of marine animals, the direction from which vibrations come from can be pinpointed with great accuracy, a quality that only adds to the success of an ocean-bound predator.
Fossils of Ambulocetus have most commonly been found in Pakistan, it is estimated to have been able to reach up to 3 metres long. Due to Ambulocetus’s ancestry to the whales, it is described as a transitional fossil. Ambulocetus lived in a period of great significance in the whales evolutionary history, living in the middle Eocene, whale evolution accelerated and by the end of the Eocene, whales had fully immersed themselves into underwater life, they had left the land for good. As far as evidence goes, Ambulocetus was an important but very short lived animal in life’s evolutionary history. By 49 million years ago, traces of Ambulocetus disappeared and there are few clues as to why.
This Fossil Friday, learn about a fossil hunt at the bottom of the world.
Home to penguins, particularly hardy mosses, and the occasional seal paying a visit to dry land, Antarctica is a unique and uniquely harsh environment. Snow and ice cover 98 percent of the landmass, and with wind chill, temperatures in the center of the continent can plunge to 100 degrees below zero.
But it wasn’t always this way. Tens of millions of years ago, Antarctica was the heart of the supercontinent known as Gondwana, pressed between would-be South American and Australian continents at first and then likely joined to each by land bridges for millions of years after they started to drift apart. Though it was still at Earth’s southern pole, Antarctica was then much warmer. And, as fossils recovered there show, the continent was home to a diverse group of vertebrates, including non-avian dinosaurs and, later, during the Eocene period about 45 million years ago, mammals.
Paleontologists think the continent still has more fossils to yield—remnants which could show the dinosaurs that roamed there 65 million years ago shared the continent with even more ancient mammals. In February, Abagael West, a graduate student who studies South American mammals at Columbia University in a collaborative program with the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School (RGGS), joined Museum Curators Ross MacPhee and Jin Meng as they headed south on a seven-week expedition in search of the evidence.
“The ancient inhabitants of Britain; when did they get here? Who were they? And how do we know? Alice Roberts meets some of the AHOB team, who have been literally digging for answers. The Natural History Museum’s Chris Stringer, is the Director of AHOB, the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain, a project which, over the past 12 years, has brought together a large team of palaeontologists, archaeologists, geologists and geographers, to pool their expertise in order to unpick British History.
Nick Ashton from the British Museum has been in charge of the north Norfolk site of Happisburgh, where the crumbling coast line has revealed the oldest examples of human life in Britain, 400,000 years earlier than previous findings of human habitation, in Boxgrove in Sussex.
The ancient landscape had its share of exotic animals. Hippos have been dug up from Trafalgar Square, mammoths have been excavated from Fleet Street. Professor Danielle Schreve is an expert in ancient mammal fossils, and tells us what these bones reveal about the ancient climate. Less glamorous than the big fossils, the humble vole is so useful and accurate as a dating tool that it has been nicknamed "the Vole Clock.”
Carbon dating has improved vastly in the past few years. Rob Dinnis, from Edinburgh University, explains why the AHOB team has been returning to old collections and redating them.“
Our ancient mammal response to stress is skittering into the bole of a tree and trying to calm our miniature hearts down to only a thousand beats per minute. We’re bigger, and we’ve made all the forests smaller, but our electric jungle has far more hiding places. Twitter and Facebook take hiding in plain sight to global extremes. You can be sitting at a desk covered with work and not see one speck of it for years. Facebook alone can keep whole herds of offices peacefully grazing on each others’ emissions while their worries crouch by the “sign out” button, waiting to spring the second they disconnect.
Scientific Expedition to Antarctica Will Search for Dinosaurs, Ancient Mammals
Museum Curator Ross MacPhee is part of an international team of researchers traveling to Antarctica this month to search for evidence that the now-frozen continent may have been the starting point for some important species that roam the Earth today.
Millions of years ago, Antarctica was a warm, lush environment ruled by dinosaurs and inhabited by a great diversity of life. But today, the fossils that could reveal what prehistoric life was like are mostly buried under the ice of the harsh landscape, making the role Antarctica played in the evolution of vertebrates a mystery.
Aided by helicopters, scientists on this month-long expedition will conduct research in the James Ross Island group off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the few spots on Antarctica where fossil-bearing rocks are accessible.
The team is specifically searching for fossils from the Cretaceous through Paleogene, a period about 100 million to 40 million years ago that includes the end of the Age of Dinosaurs and the beginning of the Age of Mammals. MacPhee, who has worked on the continent before, is looking to learn more about some of those early mammals during this journey.
“What I hope to achieve this time is to discover the first evidence of mammals in the Cretaceous of Antarctica, species that lived at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs,” MacPhee said. “If we can find them, they will have a lot to tell us about whether any evolutionary diversifications took place in Antarctica, and whether this was followed by species spreading from there to other portions of the ancient southern supercontinent Gondwana.”
The team is led by paleontologists from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The University of Texas at Austin, Ohio University, and the American Museum of Natural History and supported by the National Science Foundation as part of the Antarctic Peninsula Paleontology Project, or AP3. You can follow their exploits on Twitter at @antarcticdinos.
Emily, what IS a dinosaur? We grow up playing with dinosaur toys and watching Juraissic Park and a lot of us think we know all about dinosaurs, but nobody ever talks about why they're dinosaurs and not just big reptiles... What are the traits that makes a paleontologist go, "Yep, that's a dinosaur!"
“Dinosauria” is a clade, a grouping that includes a common ancestor and all the descendants (living and extinct) of that ancestor. So, any animal that has been determined to fall within this clade is a dinosaur. In order to be classified as such, however, that animal has to meet certain criteria with genetic characteristics which have been inherited somewhere along that evolutionary line.
For instance, birds are classified as avian dinosaurs (a T. rex would be a non-avian dinosaur) because they evolve from a commonly shared ancestor as other dinosaurs. Because of these genetic relationships, members of a clade have many physiological common traits - like, all dinosaurs have an opening in the socket of their pelvises and carry their legs directly beneath their bodies (alligators’ and those of lizards sprawl out to the side). There can be a lot of variation, too - but morphologies alone cannot determine species relatedness, like the presence of wings and flight ability ‘cuz convergent evolution is a thing.
Dimetrodon is not a dinosaur because it’s in a different clade - Synapsida - which began evolving around 308 million years ago, 77 million years before Dinosauria existed. These two groups broke apart very early on and evolved completely independent of one another. As a result, humans and all mammals are Synapsids, distant relatives of those early, sail-back creatures, and birds evolved within Dinosauria.
A nocturnal existence is a way of life for numerous mammals, from bats that swoop through dark skies to skunks that emit their noxious spray under moonlight and majestic lions, tigers and leopards that prowl the night.
But this love of nightlife appears to have begun much earlier than previously believed in the lineage that led to mammals - perhaps 300 million years ago - way before the first true mammals skittered under the feet of the dinosaurs about 100 million years later.
Scientists on Wednesday said a study of fossils of small ring-shaped bones embedded in the eyes of an important group of ancient mammal relatives called synapsids indicated that many of them thrived at night or in the twilight.
The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The mammal relatives arose around 320 million years ago and became the dominant land creatures during the Permian Period that preceded the rise of the dinosaurs in the Triassic Period that followed. They prospered worldwide, with plant and meat-eating beasts.
“The study does give us new insights into the daily lives of some of our most ancient relatives,” said Kenneth Angielczyk, a paleontologist with the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
The findings indicate nocturnal activity has a deep history in the lineage leading to mammals. This contradicts the conventional wisdom that the nocturnal lifestyle emerged with the appearance of the first bona fide mammals about 200 million years ago because they needed to slink around in the dark to avoid becoming dinosaur chow.
The researchers focused on bones called scleral ossicles that reveal the eye’s dimensions and enable predictions about light sensitivity, indicating whether an animal was nocturnal or active during daytime or active in twilight conditions. Modern mammals lack these bones.
The researchers scoured museum collections around the world and found 38 specimens comprising 24 species, mostly from the United States and South Africa but also from Russia and Brazil.
“Specimens with well-preserved scleral rings are rare, so it took a lot of searching,” Angielczyk said.
Researchers found that the eyes of ancient synapsids likely spanned a range of light sensitivities, some suited to nighttime and others favoring daylight. The oldest synapsids possessed eye dimensions consistent with night activity. Predators were more likely than herbivores to be nocturnal.
One of the best known and oldest of the ancient synapsids is Dimetrodon, a sharp-toothed, 11-foot-long (3.5 meters), four-legged predator whose back was topped by a remarkable semicircular sail-like structure. The study found Dimetrodon probably was nocturnal, hunting at night like many big cats today.
“Nocturnality comes with advantages and disadvantages,” said another of the researchers, Lars Schmitz, a biology professor at Claremont McKenna, Pitzer and Scripps Colleges in California.
“It’s cooler at night, which may be beneficial for some species. As a hunter, it may be easier to approach prey. On the other hand, the dim light levels make it difficult for animals. Keen senses are beneficial,” Schmitz added.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Leslie Adler)
The animals in the ocean have been getting bigger, on average, since the Cambrian period - and not by chance. That is the finding of a huge new survey of marine life past and present, published in the journal Science. It describes a pattern of increasing body size that cannot be explained by random “drift”, but suggests bigger animals generally fare better at sea. In the past 542 million years, the average size of a marine animal has gone up by a factor of 150. It appears that the explosion of different life forms near the start of that time window eventually skewed decisively towards bulkier animals. Today’s tiniest sea critter is less than 10 times smaller than its Cambrian counterpart, measured in terms of volume; both are minuscule crustaceans. But at the other end of the scale, the mighty blue whale is more than 100,000 times the size of the largest animal the Cambrian could offer: another crustacean with a clam-like, hinged shell.Big bias The idea that natural selection might lead to animal lineages gradually gaining weight is far from new. It is set out in a proposal known as Cope’s rule, after American fossil specialist Edward Drinker Cope. 19th-Century palaeontologists noticed that the ancient ancestors of modern mammals often tended to be smaller; horses, for example, can be traced to the dog-sized Eohippus genus of 50 million years ago. The pattern is not consistent across the animal kingdom, however. Most groups of dinosaurs got bigger until they died out - but the birds that evolved from them grew smaller and lighter with the necessity of flight. Dr Noel Heim, from Stanford University in California, set out to give Cope’s rule its most thorough test yet - in the vast realm of the ocean.