Just Checking In…

18 December 2006

If you’ve been chatting with vertebrate paleontologists at cocktail parties in the last week or so, chances are good that the two unlikely critters pictured below were mentioned:

Miocene mammal jaw fragment from New Zealand(!), Worthy et al. 2006 (left) and reconstruction of Volaticotherium antiquum a MESOZOIC gliding mammal from Mongolia by Chaung Zhao and Lida Xing, Meng et al. 2006 (right).

At left is the as-yet undescribed mammal of “unknown relationships” from New Zealand. That’s right, apparently that purportedly mammal free avitopian sliver of Gondwana had some furry stowaways that eked out a modest survival at least into the Miocene. More on this if I ever get around to posting on the Huia (decimated bird number four for those still counting). Especially intriguing is that the bones appear to belong not to a placental or marsupial or even a monotreme, but to an extinct group of archaic mammals with roots deep in the Mesozoic.

At right is the remarkable Volaticotherium antiquum1, “ancient airborne mammal”, a Mesozoic mammal which apparently employed a patagial membrane to glide between trees much like the familiar flying squirrels (Pteromyini), as well as more esoteric mammalian gliders like the colugo and the sugar glider. This pushes the record of gliding mammals back by about 70 million years and provides yet one more blow to the misconception of Mesozoic mammals as uniformly unremarkable shrewoids. Worth noting is the volaticotheres insectivorous dentition, more on that too later. Maybe.

I always saw GW as more of the Bullwinkle type…

Once upon a time, microecos was going to keep abreast of the publication of notable vertebrate fossils complete with vaguely insightful quasi-scientific analysis. Alas, the pace of discovery in 2006 proved well beyond my means. Fortunately a number of other weblogs already fill that gap (without the vagueness etc. of course).

Michael Ryan’s Palaeoblog is one-stop shopping for the late-breaking paleonews, illuminated with vintage comics covers. Palaeoblog has posts on both the new New Zealander, and the Mesozoic glider.

HMNH also has a post on the glider, and a very interesting discussion of the New Zealand fossils with respect to “ghost lineages”, a concept with close ties to the more popularly parlayed “living fossils” of the last post (remember, the bit from last September with the naked lady? Oh yeah it’s down there).

Darren Naish also writes a bit about both on his highly anticipated recent post about mid-continetal seals. If you make a paypal pledge maybe he can be convinced to stop taunting us like that.

All three blogs are mandatory reading for those not wishing to make ignorant asses of themselves at their next social drinking engagement with paleontologists, although you probably will anyway.

1 – Note the old-school Latinate name, bucking the recent trend of borrowing from languages local to the discovery site.

One Response to “Just Checking In…”

  1. […] abrupt re-arrival of terrestrial mammals, in dugout canoes, dealt a jarring blow to the unique avifauna of New […]

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