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FOSSIL SKELETON OF STRANGE, ANCIENT DIGGING MAMMAL CLEARS UP 30-YEAR EVOLUTIONARY DEBATE

8/27/2012


DEERFIELD, IL (August, 2012) - Shortly after dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops went extinct 65 million years ago, Earth’s ancient landscapes were filled with unusual mammals only distantly related to those alive today. Until recently, one of these creatures, Ernanodon antelios, was only known from a single, highly distorted specimen that raised many questions about its habits and evolutionary relationships. In the most recent issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, scientists describe a second specimen of Ernanodon that sheds new light on this curious beast from the dawn of the “Age of Mammals.”


Fig. 1. Elements of the skeleton of Ernanodon from the Naran Bulak locality in Mongolia. (© Peter Kondrashov)

 

The remarkable new skeleton comes from rocks in Mongolia that were deposited 57 million years ago during a period known as the Paleocene Epoch.

 

Ernanodon is a unique find and represents one of the most complete skeletons ever collected from the Paleocene of the Naran Bulak locality,” said Alexander Agadjanian of the Borissiak Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, co-author of the study.
 

The first specimen was discovered by a team of Soviet paleontologists in 1979 but remained unstudied for more than thirty years. The new specimen preserves most of the arms, legs, and backbone of the badger-sized animal, including many bones that were not preserved in the first specimen. The authors of the new study made detailed comparisons among the bones of Ernanodon and those of modern mammals and concluded that Ernanodon was highly specialized for digging. It may have dug for food, for shelter, or both.


Fig. 2. Skeletons of Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) (top) and Ernanodon antelios (bottom) from China. Specimens are not to scale. (Manis – Wikimedia commons – free use; Ernanodon © Peter Kondrashov)

 

“Only a handful of Asian Paleocene mammals are known by their postcranial skeleton, which makes Ernanodon a unique source of very important information about its habits, lifestyle, and affinities,” said Peter Kondrashov of A.T. Still University of Health Sciences, lead author of the study.
 

 

The strong limbs and large claws of Ernanodon, combined with its unusual, simplified teeth, have caused much confusion about its evolutionary relationships. Some scientists thought Ernanodon was an ancient relative of modern armadillos and anteaters, whereas other scientists thought Ernanodon was more closely related to a group of African and Asian ant-eating mammals known as pangolins or “scaly anteaters.” The new study concludes that Ernanodon was a closer relative of pangolins than armadillos and anteaters, but that it represents a very early side branch of the pangolin family tree.

 


Fig. 3. Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) from Gujarat, India. Photo by Sandip Kumar Wikimedia Commons (fair use).

“Few other fossil mammals presented as many controversies in the scientific world as Ernanodon did and we are glad the new skeleton helped us resolve them,” Kondrashov added.

 

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About the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

Founded in 1940 by thirty-four paleontologists, the Society now has more than 2,300 members representing professionals, students, artists, preparators, and others interested in VP. It is organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes, with the object of advancing the science of vertebrate paleontology.


Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (JVP) is the leading journal of professional vertebrate paleontology and the flagship publication of the Society. It was founded in 1980 by Dr. Jiri Zidek and publishes contributions on all aspects of vertebrate paleontology.
 

For complimentary access to the full article, visit: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/ujvp20/current

 

The article appears in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (32)5:983-1001published by Taylor and Francis

 

Citation: Kondrashov, P. and A.K. Agadjanian. 2012. A nearly complete skeleton of Ernanodon (Mammalia, Palaeanodonta) from Mongolia: morphofunctional analysis. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (32)5:983-1001. 

 

CONTACT INFORMATION

 

JVP Media liaison office

 

FOREIGN LANGUAGE VERSIONS


 

AUTHOR CONTACT INFORMATION

 

Dr. Peter Kondrashov

Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, Kirksville, Missouri

Phone: 660-626-2468

Email: pkondrashov@atsu.edu

 

Dr. Alexandre K. Agadjanian

Borissiak Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow

Email: aagadj@paleo.ru

 

 

OTHER EXPERTS NOT ASSOCIATED WITH THE STUDY 

 

Dr. Robert Emry

Curator of Cenozoic Mammals, emeritus

Smithsonian Institution

PO Box 37012, MRC 121

Washington, DC 20013-7012

E-mail:   emryr@si.edu

Phone:   202-633-1323

Fax:   202-786-2832

 

Dr. Timothy Gaudin

Professor, Department of Biological & Environmental Sciences

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

615 McCallie Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37403-2598

Email: timothy-gaudin@utc.edu

Phone: (423) 425-4163    

Fax: (423) 425-2285

 

 

IMAGES

 

Fig. 1. Elements of the skeleton of Ernanodon from the Naran Bulak locality in Mongolia. (© Peter Kondrashov)

 

Fig. 2. Skeletons of Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) (top) and Ernanodon antelios (bottom) from China. Specimens are not to scale. (Manis – Wikimedia commons – free use; Ernanodon © Peter Kondrashov)

 

Fig. 3. Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) from Gujarat, India. Photo by Sandip Kumar Wikimedia Commons (fair use). Link: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:4anteater.jpg

 

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