Squirrel-like Creatures’ discovery may require re-thinking about Earth's earliest mammals

Squirrel-like Creatures’ discovery may require re-thinking about Earth's earliest mammals

Tiny fossils of extinct mouse and squirrel-like creatures have been found in China. This discovery may require researchers to re-think about when the Earth's earliest mammals came into being.

The fossils were discovered in the northeastern province of Liaoning and suggest that the world's earliest mammals may have appeared 200 million years ago or before that.

This discovery is giving more evidence that Earth's earliest mammals took benefit of a variety of environmental habitats. They had long, thin fingers, tails that were lengthy than their bodies, and light, fragile skeletons.

"The previous picture that Mesozoic mammals were shrew-like insectivores that lived in the shadow of the dinosaurs needs to be repainted", says paleontologist Jin Meng of the American Museum of Natural History.

The creatures called as haramiyids were slender, graceful animals that seemingly evolved for a lifetime in treetops. They have hands and feet designed for grasping branches and prehensile tails like those of modern monkeys.

Meng, co-author of a study on the new fossils, says that they walked on the ground, they also swam, dug to burrow, and moved in the forests.

There should be no confusion about creatures with any living species despite a mouse-like or squirrel-like look. According to Meng, they have no living descendants.

From the skeletons, skulls and teeth of the Chinese fossils, it has been confirmed that they were true mammals, according to researchers. Some of them have been dated to 220 to 200 million years in the past, in the Late Triassic period.

By examining the teeth of creatures, researchers came to know that they were omnivorous, and their diet includes fruits, nuts and insects. They were known for some time in the fossil record and there has been long discussion whether they were true mammals or linked with different creatures.

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