Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fossils Linked to Last in a Mammal Lineage Burrowing Animal Outlived Dinosaurs

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fossils Linked to Last in a Mammal Lineage Burrowing Animal Outlived Dinosaurs

Article excerpt

For 121 years, paleontologists had been vexed by the enigma of Necrolestes patagonensis.

Just what was this strange South American mammal, whose fossils were discovered in 1891 in Patagonia and whose Latin name translates into "grave robber," referring to its burrowing and underground lifestyle?

Where did Necrolestes, with its upturned snout and large limbs for digging, fit in the mammal evolutionary tree?

Was it related to modern mammal groups such as placentals (live- bearing mammals such as humans) or marsupials (pouched mammals such as opossums)?

Using scientific perseverance, a recent fossil discovery and comparative anatomical analysis, an international team of researchers -- including Carnegie Museum of Natural History scientist John Wible -- found the answer: Necrolestes was neither a marsupial nor a placental mammal but instead was the last remaining member of an extinct mammal lineage.

"Necrolestes was an enigma. There are pictures of Necrolestes in textbooks of paleontology, but there was always a question mark next to it. Now the question mark is gone," Mr. Wible said Monday.

Because of the discovery, the endpoint for the fossil's evolutionary lineage is moved forward 45 million years than what had been originally believed. That means that the mammal survived the extinction event that marked the end of the Age of Dinosaurs. Researchers believe that Necrolestes' supreme burrowing ability enabled it to survive for 45 million years longer than its relatives.

The scientific paper resolving the mystery of Necrolestes appeared Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Mr. Wible said the discovery is significant because "we want to try to put together the events that shape the modern world. We're now trying to get a better picture of what happened in South America. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.