Horned Armadillos and Rafting Monkeys: The Fascinating Fossil Mammals of South America

Horned Armadillos and Rafting Monkeys: The Fascinating Fossil Mammals of South America

Horned Armadillos and Rafting Monkeys: The Fascinating Fossil Mammals of South America

Horned Armadillos and Rafting Monkeys: The Fascinating Fossil Mammals of South America

Synopsis

South America is home to some of the most distinctive mammals on Earth--giant armadillos, tiny anteaters, the world's largest rodent, and its smallest deer. But the continent once supported a variety of other equally intriguing mammals that have no close living relatives: armored mammals with tail clubs, saber-toothed marsupials, and even a swimming sloth. We know of the existence of these peculiar species thanks to South America's rich fossil record, which provides many glimpses of prehistoric mammals and the ecosystems in which they lived. Organized as a "walk through time" and featuring species from 15 important fossil sites, this book is the most extensive and richly illustrated volume devoted exclusively to the Cenozoic mammals of South America. The text is supported by 75 life reconstructions of extinct species in their native habitats, as well as photographs of fossil specimens and the sites highlighted in the book. An annotated bibliography is included for those interested in delving into the scientific literature.

Excerpt

South America has a rich and fascinating fossil mammal record, the best among Southern Hemisphere continents. Unfortunately, most of these mammals are virtually unknown to the general public and even many paleontologists. One reason for this is that many varied and abundant groups left no living representatives or even close relatives. This makes it is difficult to make definitive statements about the habits of these mammals or even imagine what they may have looked like. Because most of these groups were restricted to South America, only a few museums outside that continent have specimens of them on display, and this has further impeded awareness of them elsewhere.

I myself was almost completely ignorant of the marvelous mammals of ancient South America until I undertook a Ph.D. thesis studying extinct species from Chile. Once I became familiar with them, I was struck by how difficult it was for friends and family to relate to the animals I was studying. I would describe these animals as small hoofed mammals that were not closely related to cows or horses and may have resembled large rodents more than anything else. That description usually just confused things or resulted in a shift in conversation. I realized that it was impossible for most people to identify with these animals without accurate reconstructions of how they may have appeared in life and accessible information about the roles they filled in ancient ecosystems.

The aim of this book is to provide the reader with a compelling but understandable summary of the extraordinary diversity of extinct South American mammals. I begin by briefly discussing the geography and main groups of South American mammals in the first two sections. I then highlight several species (primarily mammals) at each of 15 particularly well known paleontological sites. These sites were chosen because they span the so-called Age of Mammals (the Cenozoic Era, the last 66 million years), are distributed throughout much of the continent, and have produced important fossils of extinct species. the appendices of this book provide additional information about these sites and their extinct animals. Appendix 1 is an alphabetical list of the species reconstructed in this book. Appendix 2 is a comprehensive classification of families and higher taxonomic groups that are mentioned. This appendix also notes which families are represented by life reconstructions and discussed in greater detail. Appendices 3–17 list the mammal species that have been found at each of the sites highlighted in this book. These lists include relevant citations from the scientific literature.

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