At the Museum


AMERICAN MUSEUM S NATURAL HISTORY

Fossil Armored Mammal Found in Chile

You probably won't be able to pronounce it, which is fine, because you probably won't be seeing one anytime soon. Parapropalaehoplophorus septentrionalis was a lumbering, armadillo-like mammal that lived 18 million years ago in what is now the arid desert of northern Chile's Andean Altiplano. The fossilized remains of this extinct cousin of the modern-day armadillo were first discovered in 2004 and described in 2007 as part of an ongoing project by AMNH researchers to study the structure and evolution of the unique animals that inhabited South America at a time when the continent was much different than it is today.

Their work extends beyond paleontology: these fossils indicate that what is desert today was open grassland 18 million years ago. "Our studies elsewhere on the Altiplano suggest that the region was at a much lower elevation when these fossils lived," said John Flynn, Dean of the Richard Gilder Graduate School. "In addition to providing a look at the paleoecology of the region, this has given us new insights into the timing and rate of uplift of the Andes."

The study, which was co-led by Flynn and Darin Croft, Assistant Professor at case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and a Research Associate in the Museum's Division of Paleontology, took the team of U.S. and Chilean scientists to more than 14,000 feet above sea level. The thin air, scarce water, and frigid temperatures of the high Andes posed challenges to the researchers, but it's all in a day's work.

The partial skeleton that the group unearthed turned out to represent a new species of glyptodont-a family of hard-shelled, grazing mammals that may have occasionally tipped the scales at two tons. This new species likely weighed in at a mere 200 pounds and was covered with a thick shell of immovable armored plates.

Over the past decade, the team's fossil-hunting expeditions to northern Chile have uncovered several hundred fossil mammal specimens. These animals, known collectively as the Chucal Fauna, include at least 18 species of armadillos and glyptodonts, rodents, relatives of opossums, and a variety of extinct hoofed mammals. The new glyptodont was reconstructed from the jaw, shell, leg, and backbone. Based on these remains and other evidence, the team concluded that P. septentrionalis was one of the earliest-diverging members of a family that includes modern armadillos.

Refresher Course

Water: H2O = Life

All of Earth's creatures depend on water for survival, and, in order to meet their needs, many have fine-tuned their average water intake to accommodate the varying, often extreme, conditions in their habitats. For example, did you know:

* Some creatures can survive without drinking any water at all. Kangaroo rats have super-efficient kidneys that are so good at recycling water they get all they need from just the food they eat.

* Albatrosses have evolved a way to drink seawater, which is too salty for most other birds and land animals. To get rid of excess salt from the water and food they ingest, albatrosses have glands just behind their eye sockets that absorb salt. The glands then excrete a concentrated salt solution that drains out a duct and off the tip of the beak.

* No bigger than a speck, tiny eight-legged creatures called tardigrades live in either ocean or freshwater habitats. If drought strikes, they essentially shut down their metabolism and shrivel up into a ball called a tun, waiting until water returns. They can last for years in this state and can also withstand oxygen deprivation, vacuum, and extreme heat or cold.

For these and more fascinating facts about one of the most essential ingredients to life on Earth, and the current challenges involving its use, safety, availability, and more, visit the Museum's informative exhibition Water: H2O = Life, which runs through May 26, or check out the "Fast Facts" section of www. …

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