Fossils of Earliest-Known Mammals Discovered In China
Chinese paleontologists have uncovered fossils of tiny, squirrel-like creatures in Liaoning Province, China. These creatures looked like today's squirrels and lived nearly 160-170 million years ago during the Jurassic period.
Three extremely well-preserved specimens that belonged to three separate species were discovered on a rock outcropping. These three new species have the scientific names Shenshou lui, Xianshou songae, and Xianshou linglong. Researchers have placed them together in a new group called Euharamiyida.
Prior to this fossil discovery, scientists only had teeth to represent these small creatures, so there was not much information about them. These creatures had very unusual teeth with two rows of up to seven cusps on each molar. Based on the shape of their teeth, it is likely that these creatures dined on a diet of insects, bugs, nuts and fruits.
The fossils indicate that these animals were of the size of a mouse and weighed from 1 to 10 ounces. They had long tails and feet, which means that they spent more time on trees as compared to the modern squirrels.
The fossil also showed the presence of a three-boned middle ear that suggests that their hearing was very much like that of modern mammals, humans and whales. Because of the presence of these ears, scientists have recognized these creatures as mammals.
In an interview to the Daily Mail, Dr. Jin Meng, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York said, "What we're showing here is very convincing that these animals are mammals and we need to turn back the clock for mammal divergence. But even more importantly these new fossils present a new suite of characters that might help us tell many more stories about ancient mammals".
He added that this discovery largely indicates that Jurassic mammals were much more diverse than what was earlier believed by the researchers.
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