Scientists were surprised by the discovery of an ancient critter in Utah that calls into question current theories on the breakup of Pangea.
Scientists have just discovered the fossilized skull in Utah that once belonged to a tiny mammal, and the find could greatly enhance our understanding of early mammals, and change how we understand the breakup of supercontinent Pangea. The fossil could also provide insight into one of the most primitive mammalian groups scientists have yet studied.
This small primitive creature lived during the Cretaceous Period and is being called Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch by scientists. It was probably the size of a small hare and it lived 130 million years ago.
Scientists think it was a plant eater and it may have been nocturnal due to its keen sense of smell, probably living on banks or flood plains of small rivers. The three-inch skull that scientists found was almost totally complete.
Because Cifelliodon has a close relative in Africa, it indicates that there may ahve been connections between the northern hemisphere continents and the southern hemisphere about 15 million years later than scientists had thought.
“Based on the unlikely discovery of this near-complete fossil cranium, we now recognize a new, cosmopolitan group of early mammal relatives,” said Adam Huttenlocker, lead author of the study and assistant professor of clinical integrative anatomical sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
“For a long time, we thought early mammals from the Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) were anatomically similar and not ecologically diverse,” Huttenlocker said. “This finding by our team and others reinforce that, even before the rise of modern mammals, ancient relatives of mammals were exploring specialty niches: insectivores, herbivores, carnivores, swimmers, gliders. Basically, they were occupying a variety of niches that we see them occupy today.”