- News Home
5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
Ancient Mammals Get Airborne
13 December 2006 (All day)
When mammals first evolved some 200 million years ago, the dinosaurs reigned supreme. For eons, conventional wisdom has it, mammals survived by staying small, nocturnal, and unspecialized. Only after dinos went extinct 65 million years ago did mammals come into their own. In the past few years, however, a string of new discoveries has shown that mammals actually diversified early on and developed a variety of tricks for making a living. The finds include an insectivore specialized for digging and a fish-eating, beaver-like creature.
The newest addition to the crowd is Volitcotheria antiquus, a 14-centimeter-long mammal from Inner Mongolia. Its most impressive feature is a large membrane of skin that stretched between the front and rear limbs. "It was really a surprise when we saw this," says paleontologist Jin Meng of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who describes the fossil this week in Nature with several colleagues.
The skin is clearly an adaptation for gliding, Meng says, and would have allowed the tree-climber to glide from branch to branch. With its squarish wing-surface, Volitcotheria probably wasn't chasing prey while in the air. But gliding would have been useful for escaping predators, like the flying pterosaurs that lived at the same time. At somewhere between 130 million and 164 million years old, the fossil is by far the oldest known flying mammal. The next oldest is a 51-million-year-old bat from Wyoming.
"The total range of ecological diversification is so much greater than we thought possible 5 years ago," says Zhexi Luo of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "This paints a new picture."