130-million-year-old Utah fossil could reshape science around Earth's super-continent, Pangea


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The 130-million-year-old skull of a tiny mammal, found amid a set of dinosaur bones after a St. George paleontologist came across a cache of fossils more than a decade ago, could reshape the way scientists think about the breakup of Earth’s ancient super-continent, Pangea, and about the way mammals spread across the world.


The skull, found nearly complete, represents a new species, dubbed Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch; the latter half translates to "Yellow Cat" in the ancestral language of the Ute tribe. And while it was found in an exposed rock formation on Bureau of Land Management land northeast of Arches National Park, it has some unlikely relatives — a subgroup of creatures known as Hanodontidae, which had previously only been found in regions of North Africa.


In a paper published this month in the scientific journal Nature, lead author Adam Huttenlocker, a paleontologist and assistant professor at the University of Southern California, suggests the discovery means that Pangea broke up into smaller continents about 15 million years later than previously thought. And that would reshape the way scientists think about the early migrations of mammals and their close relatives between Asia, Europe, North America and the southern continents.


"For a long time, we thought early mammals from the Cretaceous (145 million to 66 million years ago) were anatomically similar and not ecologically diverse," Huttenlocker said in a written statement. "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."






Full article @ The Spectrum

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