Sunday 16 December 2018

Prehistoric Mammal Discoveries of 2018

a new non-mammalian synapsid described this year
And so another year approaches its conclusion. As usual, I will wrap up here with a post looking at things from a slightly wider perspective. This time around, as I did last year, I am going to take a brief look at a range of scientific papers on fossil mammals that were published in 2018. There's not going to be any particular theme here beyond that, merely a list of things that caught my interest, and that were not, for various reasons, included in the blog proper. So, here we go:

Beginnings and Endings

In the modern day, it's pretty easy to tell mammals and reptiles apart. But, if we go far enough back in time, that eventually ceases to be so true. A common misunderstanding is that mammals evolved 'from' reptiles, but, in reality, mammals and reptiles are separate evolutionary lines that have lived alongside one another since long before there were dinosaurs. At least, that's true if we use the modern definition of 'reptile' since, of course, the animals that mammals really did evolve from would have looked an awful lot like reptiles if we'd been able to see them in the flesh.

Sunday 9 December 2018

Miocene (Pt 11): Horses on the Grasslands

The lush greenery of Early Miocene North America was a good place for large mammalian herbivores. Many of these, such as musk deer, pronghorns and camels, were, in one fashion or another, cud-chewing animals, able to extract maximum nutrition from a grassy or leafy diet. But many, of course, were not, either finding different ways to get the most out of their food, or else going for plants that were generally easier to digest.

Some of these were, like the ruminants, cloven-hoofed animals. Today, the main group of non-ruminant cloven-hoofed animals are the pigs, but they have never truly lived wild in the Americas, with feral 'razorbacks' only having arrived with the white man. Instead, America has peccaries, also known as javelinas, animals that look very much like pigs, but have a number of crucial differences.

Saturday 1 December 2018

Not the Pig Family: Fossil Peccaries and More

Today, there are only three recognised living species of peccary, the smallish pig-like animals that inhabit the Americas... and one of those is endangered. However, these are but the last remnants of a once much larger group with a fossil history that stretches back even further than that of the true pigs.

While pigs date back, at the best, to the end of the Oligocene epoch, the oldest known peccary fossil dates from the end of the epoch before that, the Eocene. This implies that the ancestors of the peccaries entered North America from Asia between 36 and 34 million years ago. The fossil in question belongs to a species known as Perchoerus minor, and it's also worth noting that it is also the smallest peccary known... in fact, it was about the size of a typical house cat.