An international team of scientists identified what are most likely the first ever gliding mammals, and these seem to have lived alongside dinosaurs.
A pair of fossils discovered in northeastern China, in the Tiaojishan Formation, revealed new details about the ancestors of all modern-day mammals. They show that, some 140 million years ago, if not more, these were soaring through the skies.
Exceptionally Well-Preserved Fossils of Gliding Mammals From the Jurassic
The team of paleontologists took a closer look at the two discovered fossils, which are now at the Beijing Museum of Natural History. These specimens were determined to be a Maiopatagium furculiferum and a Vilevolodon diplomylos.
The Maiopatagium, which translates to “mother of wings” was the biggest of the two, but still came to just around nine inches in length and some 4 to 6 ounces in weight. Vilevolodon or the “gliding mammal” was even smaller, being just three inches long and weighing some one to two ounces.
These two gliding mammals are haramiyidans or a branch of mammaliaforms that were herbivores and which went extinct some 40 million years ago. Mammaliaformes are held as being the ancient ancestors of all modern-day mammals.
Both of the analyzed fossils were exceptionally preserved as they still clearly presented membranes. These were noted to have connected their front to back limbs.
Skeletal features in both the forelimbs and the shoulder joints suggested that the animals were agile enough as to use the connected membranes for gliding. Their digits also suggested that they could have been used for gripping onto branches, much like the present-day bats.
Examples of Amazing Evolutionary Process
These are just some of the data that suggested that these two animals were well adapted for an aerial locomotion. Both of the species lived during the Mesozoic Era, in the Jurassic period, which makes them contemporaries of some of the dinosaurs.
The Maiopatagium and Vilevolodon were both dated as being at least 140 million years old, which makes them the earliest gliding mammals discovered until now.
“It’s amazing that the aerial adaptions occurred so early in the history of mammals,” stated David Grossnickle, a researcher part of the study and the University of Chicago.
“The groundwork for mammals’ successful diversification today appears to have been laid long ago,” stated another study member, Zhe-Xi Luo.
Research results and further details are available in the journal Nature.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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