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Scientists Unearth 160 Million Year Old Fossils of Winged Mammals From Jurassic Era in China

The City of Fossils has once again given the world insightful findings from the Jurassic Era.

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The specimens reveal that primitive mammals glided in air.
The newly excavated specimens reveal that at a time when magnanimous dinosaurs moved over the land, the winged mammals glided overhead in the sky (representative image) Pixabay.
  • Fossils of forerunners of present day mammals found in China
  • Proof unearthed that primitive mammals from the Jurassic Era essentially glided in the sky 
  • With the extent of fossils excavated from China, it is known as the ‘Country of Fossils’

China, August 10, 2017: There are a few things that can possibly leave a scientist, a history buff, and an excited 10-year-old child awestruck and the latest finding from China is certainly one of them! Two remarkable new species of delicate winged mammals were unveiled by paleontologists that are believed to have lived alongside dinosaurs nearly 160 million years ago.

The newly found fossils have been described in two papers published by a collective international team of scientists from the University of Chicago, and Beijing Museum of Natural History.

The specimens aren’t a first of a kind as previously mammalian gliders have been known to belong to the same time period. However, what sets them apart from all previous unearthing are the thin, furry membranes of skin attached to their fore and hind limbs that surprisingly are clearly preserved in the rock.

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Paleontologists understand the Mesozoic Era (time between roughly 248 million to 65 million years ago), as the Age of the Dinosaurs. It was popularly believed that primitive mammals from the period were tiny herbivorous and insectivorous, who stayed aloof in the shadows. However, in recent years, this belief was revised that mammals of the time had evolved to forms what were predicaments to their present-day form.

The understanding has now been changed again with the unearthing of these rare fossils that have revealed that at a time when huge dinosaurs ruled the land, the mammals glided far overhead – like flying squirrels.

This has been revealed by the new found specimens’ well preserved skeletal system and their carbonized skin.

“Despite living in dinosaur-dominated ecosystems, early mammals diversified into many ecological niches”, Zhe-Xi Luo, Paleontologist at the University of Chicago told VOA, who led the research published in the journal  Nature.

Named Maiopatagium furculiferum and Vilevolodon diplomyos, they were unearthed about 40 miles (65 km) away in Liaoning province and Hebei province respectively, and are now offering clues and scope for further studies about the evolution of mammals.

These two, along with another glider unearthed in 2006 are being touted as the leaders of the mammalian air-force that have since gone extinct.

Anatomy Of The Primitive Winged Mammals

Mammals are believed to have first appeared roughly 210 million years ago. However, these fossils have revealed that early mammals were not merely existing by cringing at the feet of the dinosaurs but instead, boasted a range of adaptations in anatomy, lifestyles and diet.

It has been revealed that both the fossils have extremely defined hand and feet, and the limbs of these gliding mammals are structurally different from those that simply walked on the ground or climbed trees. It was further notes that both the specimen has hands and feet similar to those in modern day bats (that appeared nearly 100 million years later).

The new found fossils also display very well-preserved teeth, which has helped in understanding the dietary habits of this ancient mammalian air force.

The teeth of Maiopatagium are simpler in terms of their construction and resemble those of fruit bats, suggesting that it ate soft plants and soft fruits. While on the other hand, Vilevolodon has a complex tooth crown with teeth resemble those of squirrels, suitable for eating seeds.

The primitive mammals could glide comes as a news to all.
The specimen can shed new light to understand about the anatomy, and lifestyle of the now extinct species. VOA

They both are gliders, however can be divided into segments of the same category based on their eating habits. The two specimens are different interns of their sizes also. Maiopatagium was about 9 inches (23 cm) long, similar in size to flying squirrels while Vilevolodon was a little smaller in comparison, more mouse-size.

After studying their hand and foot bones, the scientists concluded that the two must have used all four limbs to hang from trees, and grip tea branches with their feet like bats. They also display skeletal features in their forelimbs and shoulder joints that are believed to have given them the sustenance to glide.

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“The gliding membranes were attached to the four limbs, likely at or near the wrists and ankles,” said David Grossnickle, a University of Chicago paleontologist as reported by VOA.

These traits when combined compliment the hypothesis that different group of mammals followed a similar route to evolution –

  1. Land based, operating on all limbs
  2. Tree climbing, using elongated toes of the fore and hind limbs
  3. Gliding overhead the magnificent dinosaurs

The Jurassic Maiopatagium and Vilevolodon are believed to be the forerunners to modern mammals and show the earliest examples of gliding behavior among extinct mammal ancestors. They also share similar ecology with the present-day gliders, however with some significant differences.

ALSO READ: Scientists in Japan unearth 72-million-year-old Fossil of the largest complete Dinosaur Skeleton

These new unearthings are believed to have coexisted with other life varieties that were experimenting with flying such as small feathered dinosaurs like  Anchiornis who were on the evolutionary route to become birds some million years later.

Country Of Fossils

In recent years, an increasing number of fossils have been unearthed from different provinces of China. More recently, a Jurassic site was excavated in Yunyang county that is being understood as the biggest Jurassic fossil site in the world. The 150-metre long ‘Dinosaur fossil wall’ that is currently being excavated by a team of paleontologists is believed to be home to a new batch of fossils. Scientists have, in its entirety found that it was home to five different species of dinosaurs. These discoveries have together led to the country now being seen as the ‘Country of Fossils’. (VOA)


 
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Dinosaur tracks have been found in China’s Jilin province: Scientists

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Skeleton of a dinosaur, VOA

Beijing, March 11, 2017: Dinosaur tracks have been found in China’s Jilin province, scientists said.

The tracks were found on a rural mountain road in Longjing city in August 2015, Xinhua news agency quoted the scientists from China, South Korea and the US as saying.

“The tracks include footprints of 55 cm long hadrosaurs. The trackmaker’s body could have reached seven metres long,” Xing Lida, associate professor from China University of Geosciences, said.

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Several tracks of carnivorous dinosaurs were also discovered with various footprint sizes ranging from 43 to 21 centimetres, Xing said.

The discovery will help with research to understand the region’s landscape during the Cretaceous period, Xing said. (IANS)

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Strong Tails of early Dinosaurs helped them move about on all fours and rise up on just their two back feet: Research

Bipedalism in dinosaurs was inherited from ancient and much smaller proto-dinosaurs.

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Skeleton of a dinosaur, pixabay

Toronto, March 4, 2017: Big muscles in the tails of early dinosaurs helped them move about on all fours and rise up on just their two back feet, new research suggests.

Bipedalism in dinosaurs was inherited from ancient and much smaller proto-dinosaurs.

The trick to this evolution is in their tails, said lead study author Scott Persons, postdoctoral fellow at University of Alberta in Canada.

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“The tails of proto-dinosaurs had big, leg-powering muscles,” Persons said.

“Having this muscle mass provided the strength and power required for early dinosaurs to stand on and move with their two back feet. We see a similar effect in many modern lizards that rise up and run bipedally,” Persons added.

Over time, proto-dinosaurs evolved to run faster and for longer distances.

Adaptations like hind limb elongation allowed ancient dinosaurs to run faster, while smaller forelimbs helped to reduce body weight and improve balance, according to the study published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

Eventually, some proto-dinosaurs gave up quadrupedal walking altogether.

The research also debunks theories that early proto-dinosaurs stood on two legs for the sole purpose of freeing their hands for use in catching prey.

“Those explanations don’t stand up,” Persons said.

“Many ancient bipedal dinosaurs were herbivores, and even early carnivorous dinosaurs evolved small forearms. Rather than using their hands to grapple with prey, it is more likely they seized their meals with their powerful jaws,” Persons explained.

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But, if it is true that bipedalism can evolve to help animals run fast, why aren’t mammals like horses and cheetahs bipedal?

“Largely because mammals don’t have those big tail-based leg muscles,” Persons said. (IANS)

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Comet May Have Hit Earth 56 Million Years Ago, Triggered warm, ice-free period on Earth: Scientists

The researchers said they have not found the location of an impact crater linked to the collision

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A tiny sand-grain-size tektite, thought to be created when vaporized material from an impact solidified while flying through the air, is shown in this image released in New York, Oct. 13, 2016. VOA

October 14, 2016: Droplets of glass dug up in New Jersey and from the Atlantic seabed indicate a comet or some other extraterrestrial object may have smacked Earth 56 million years ago, roughly 10 million years after the asteroid impact that doomed the dinosaurs.

Scientists said on Thursday the collision may have triggered a particularly warm, ice-free period on Earth when important mammalian groups, including the primate lineage that led to humans, appeared for the first time.

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The findings, published in the journal Science, marked the latest evidence of the profound influence that past impacts by celestial bodies have had on life on Earth.

The tiny spherical bits of dark glass, called microtektites, represent strong evidence of a collision with a comet or asteroid, the researchers said. They form when a space rock hits Earth’s surface and vaporises the spot where it lands, ejecting into the air bits of molten rock that solidify into glass.

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The microtektites were excavated from a geological layer marking the start of the Eocene Epoch about 56 million years ago from three sites in southern New Jersey (Millville, Wilson Lake and Medford) and an underwater site east of Florida.

That coincided with the beginning of a warming event, called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, associated with an accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide. It lasted more than 100,000 years and drove up global temperatures about 9-14 degrees Fahrenheit (5-8 degrees Celsius).

The impact of an asteroid about six miles wide (10 km) off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula 10 million years earlier killed off many marine and terrestrial creatures including the dinosaurs, and enabled mammals to gain supremacy.

No such mass extinction was associated with the event 56 million years ago, although many single-celled ocean-bottom creatures disappeared. During the warming period, primates and two mammal groups — one that includes deer, antelope, sheep and goats and another that includes horses and rhinos — first appear in the fossil record.

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The researchers said they have not found the location of an impact crater linked to the collision. They said geological evidence suggested the object was a comet.

“We can’t really say where it was, or how big, at this point,” said geochemist Morgan Schaller of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who led the study.

While the findings are not proof that the impact caused the warming period, they are “a rather dramatic finding in support of an impact trigger” for the climate changes, said planetary scientist Dennis Kent of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University. (VOA)